Chris Marve does not simply take ball carriers to the ground — although he does that often. Vanderbilt’s sophomore linebacker is proving more and more that he is adept at getting the ball on the ground.
Two weeks into the season, Marve leads the Southeastern Conference with three forced fumbles. That is one short of his total from a year ago when he also topped the conference.
With at least 10 games remaining he already is more than halfway to the school’s single-season record of five forced fumbles shared by Shelton Quarles (1991) and Jamie Duncan (1996) and already he is the first VU player in the 26 years since the stat has been kept to force at least three in consecutive seasons.
Only one other player in the league, South Carolina freshman Devin Taylor, has forced more than one to this point.
“I’m just tying to make plays,” Marve said. “Sometimes, if I see the ball, I go for a strip. Sometimes it’s just proper positioning on the tackle. And it’s luck sometimes, you know?”
When Marve knocked the ball loose from LSU wide receiver Russell Shepard on the Tigers’ second offensive it was the third time in his last four conference games he forced a fumble. That stretch started with one against Florida last season and included another against Tennessee two weeks later.
“Some of them have been strips and some of them have just been big hits,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “When he gets the opportunity to strip (the ball) he’s always mindful of it and does a good job of it. He’s strong and he can rip that thing out.
“(Saturday) night it was just a collision that caused it.”
He opened the 2009 season with two against Western Carolina — on the Commodores’ first two defensive possessions.
All three of his forced fumbles this season resulted in changes of possession. Coincidentally, Vanderbilt has forced three more turnovers (five) in its first two games than it has committed (two).
He currently is second on the team with 15 tackles, which means one out of every five hits has resulted in a fumble.
“Turnovers make a difference in a football game, and turnovers make a good defense,” Marve said. “So I’m just trying to make plays, get turnovers and get the ball back to our offense so they can go and score points.”
Not all of his forced fumbles come early in the game, however. His first last season came at a critical moment in the Commodores’ victory over Ole Miss. With 2:40 to play and VU ahead by three, he forced a fumble at the 1-yard line and the Commodores recovered for a touchback.
“The more you play, the more reps you get the more comfortable you are out there,” he said. “But you can’t be too comfortable. You always have to be on your toes.”
Opponents would be advised to keep two hands on the ball.
• Most, but not all, of the depth in Vanderbilt’s secondary is young.
Fifth-year senior Joel Caldwell is in line to be the starting free safety in place of Ryan Hamilton, who sustained a season-ending chest injury last Saturday.
“I feel pretty comfortable with the defensive calls and plays,” Caldwell said. “I just have to read my keys. …I’m just trying to help my team make plays, and I just want to help the team try to stay focused.”
Hamilton was scheduled to undergo surgery Tuesday afternoon and is expected to remain active with the team throughout the remainder of the season.
“He wants to be with the team Saturday and help us coach the rest of the way,” Johnson said. “I don’t think you could keep him out of here with a whip.”
• Senior running back Jared Hawkins was involved in more of Tuesday’s practice than at any time in the last three weeks. His status for Saturday against Mississippi State remained uncertain, however.
“The little bit he did, it looked like he did it really well,” Johnson said.