Commodores won't play it close to the vest against UConn

Monday, September 5, 2011 at 8:14pm

The reins won’t be pulled back.

At least that’s the approach Vanderbilt head James Franklin says the Commodores will take into this week's game against Connecticut.

He unveiled a small sample of the tricks in his playbook in last Saturday’s 45-14 season-opening rout of Elon. With the Southeastern Conference opener less than two weeks away, it would be logical to stay conservative when it comes to calling plays.

Franklin, however, says he won’t hold back in fear of giving SEC opponents a glimpse of the gameplan.

“We are not in a position to be saving anything for anybody,” he said at his weekly press conference on Monday. “We have to go in each game and shoot every bullet we’ve got to give us a chance to be successful. We’re not in the business of saving points or plays.”

Against Elon, Vanderbilt displayed its new multiple-set offense. Quarterback Larry Smith took snaps directly under center and out of the shotgun. Fullback Fitz Lassing lined up in the backfield. Two tight ends were employed. Four wide receivers spread out the defense on a fourth-and-three in the second quarter that allowed Smith to burst through a wide-open lane for a 16-yard touchdown run.

The creativity expanded with the insertion of cornerback Casey Hayward into the offense in the first quarter. On the first play of the Commodores’ second drive, running back Zac Stacy took a direct snap. He then handed it off to Hayward, who had lined up at wide receiver and was in motion when the ball was snapped. He slammed on the brakes mid-run, turned around and raced 23 yards down the sideline before stepping out of bounds. Later in the drive, Vanderbilt scored its first touchdown.

“That was probably the play that got us going,” Franklin said.

In the fourth quarter, the Commodores pulled away on another trick play. Wide receiver Wesley Tate scored his first career touchdown on a 23-yard run, which came as a result of a reverse.

“We call them 'money plays,'” tight end Brandon Barden said.

Expect more of them. 

“We just try to show as many different looks as possible and get the ball in as many different players’ hands and see what they can do with it,” wide receiver Chris Boyd said on Saturday. “I think as long as we are on offense, we are a pretty dangerous team. We can attack teams and make big plays under center, shotgun, whatever we need to do, we can make plays.”

Norman healthy: Franklin said running back Warren Norman was available against Elon. The junior, however, never went in.

Norman underwent knee surgery in the offseason, missing all of spring workouts and limiting his play in preseason camp.

“He is ready to go,” Franklin said. “The longer we could hold him ... for the first week the better. But he is ready to go this week and if we had to play him this last Saturday we would have. When I told you guys last week that we had everybody available, that was the truth.”

Norman, the 2009 SEC Freshman of the Year, led the Commodores in rushing the last two seasons. He is slotted second on the depth chart behind Stacy for the second straight week.

“I talked to him last week and he told me he was 91 percent,” Franklin said. “Now where he came up with that number I can’t really tell you. I think he feels really good. He looks really good. We are doing some things in practice and in rehab and treatments and he is very, very confident right now. If it was up to him, he would have played and he would have started the game.

"We were hoping that we could get through that game without playing him and have him ready this week full-go, 100 percent.”

Recalculating completions: Quarterback Larry Smith was 13-of-27, completing 48.1 percent of his passes Saturday.
By Franklin’s watch, however, his fifth-year senior was really 18-of-24 (75 percent). He said receivers dropped five passes and three he threw away instead of taking a sack.

“I think they are pretty good statistics understanding he didn’t take sacks, he didn’t create any turnovers and really put the offense in position to be successful and didn’t hurt the team,” Franklin said. “So I think that is more of an accurate statistic.”

• No redshirt ... yet: On Friday, true freshman quarterback Josh Grady wrote on his Twitter account that he was going to redshirt this season.

Thirty seconds after the tweet, Franklin said Grady was in his office.

“Really, there is no way he can say that. If we have some injuries, he is going to play this year and he understands that,” Franklin said. “I don’t understand why he would [tweet] that, but that was an opportunity for growth and learning for him and for our entire team.”

Franklin has said Grady, a 6-foot, 185-pounder from Tampa, is his third-string quarterback, behind starter Larry Smith and Jordan Rodgers. As a senior at Armwood High, he passed for 2,109 yards, 24 touchdowns and threw just five interceptions.

• Student coaches: Vanderbilt’s first touchdown wasn’t called by Franklin or Donovan. Instead, a quartet of students chose the play that led to the game’s first score.

Students Trent Palmberg, Stephanie Mills, Scott Guthrie and Prithvi Muddana played a part in Smith’s 15-yard touchdown pass to fullback Fitz Lassing in the first quarter.

“We picked out a play that would give Larry [Smith] some confidence,” Palmberg said. “It had a hot route to the right and gave him a few receivers to hit either for short or maybe a little longer. ... When they got into the touchdown territory, there was a similar situation. He called a similar play to that and it went in for a touchdown and we were ecstatic. We were really excited about it.”

In the spring, a Christian fraternity, Beta Upsilon Chi, held its annual “Male Sale,” in which frat brothers are auctioned off for routine services such as cleaning dorm rooms and cooking dinner. Franklin served as a celebrity judge for the talent show.

Impressed that the proceeds were going to the Christian Women’s Job Corps, Franklin decided to auction up a football package. It included going to dinner with Franklin, touring the football facilities, attending a practice, participating in the Star Walk, watching pregame workouts on the field and picking out a play.

“We felt like we were getting a celebrity experience,” Palmberg said. “We feel like we got a lot more than we deserved for what we paid. It was a pretty cool experience for a bunch of undergrads.”