Franklin says numbers don't lie when it comes to Commodores' improvement

Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 11:42pm

James Franklin told you so.

Whom he told isn’t quite clear. But he appeared to be talking to the doubters and cynics who thought his Vanderbilt football program wasn’t improving in his second year as head coach. On Monday the media members gathered for his weekly press conference served as a great target audience.

“I know I throw some things out a lot of times and you guys say, ‘Here’s Franklin, selling us on some dream.’ But it’s reality,” he said. “It is reality. We’re getting better.”

Armed with statistics compiled by Vanderbilt’s sports information staff evaluating the first five games of 2011 and this season’s opening five contests, Franklin pointed out progress.

In 17 statistical categories listed in Vanderbilt’s weekly notes, the Commodores have improved in 10 areas. The most important stat, though, win-loss record, shows a decline.

Vanderbilt enters Saturday’s showdown against No. 4 Florida with a 2-3 record. But Franklin noted his team not far off last year’s pace. The Commodores started 3-2 a year ago and sit just one game back at that same point this season. Also, they’re once again 1-2 through their first three games in the Southeastern Conference.

Among the notable statistics, the numbers showed that Vanderbilt has improved in every offensive category. They’ve gained 121.8 yards more a game; 82.4 more passing yards; 38.4 more rushing yards and 5.4 more first downs. They’ve also made miniscule improvement in scoring, averaging 21.2 points, just up from 20.4 last year.

The most notable drop, which has been apparent to even those who don’t study the box scores, is a lack of takeaways. In 2011, the Commodores were among the best in the country with 16 forced turnovers through the first five games and had a turnover margin of plus-5. This year, they’ve forced just five and turned it over five times to stay even in turnover margin.

“The biggest difference between our team last year and this year is turnovers,” Franklin said. “We get turnovers and that gets our defense off our field. That provides more opportunities for our offense.”

Left off the list was touchdowns. The Commodores scored 13 and allowed 13 in the first five games last year. This season, they’ve scored 11 and given up 12.

Of course they padded their stats in week three with a 58-0 rout of Presbyterian, a Football Championship Subdivision foe just six years removed from Division II.

So for the sake of relevance, throw out Vanderbilt’s games against FCS opponents — Presbyterian this year and Elon in 2011 — and compare the Commodores’ numbers against Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

Last year their first four FBS opponents were Connecticut, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Alabama, two of which were nationally ranked. This year they played South Carolina, Northwestern, Georgia and Missouri, again seeing two of them ranked.

In those games, of those same 17 statistical categories, the Commodores have improved in nine areas.

The two areas that flopped were scoring offense and rushing offense. In games against FBS opponents, Vanderbilt is scoring just 12 points, down from 14.5 a year ago. The Commodores are also picking up just 89.5 rushing yards a game, a sizable decrease from 111 a game in 2011. They’re also allowing 25.7 points a game — five more than last year.

But that hasn’t spilled over to more points. They’ve scored just four touchdowns against FBS opponents. Last year at this point they had seven. In fact, in all games, they’ve settled for more field goals this year, attempting 11 (and making nine). In 2011, they called upon placekicker Carey Spear just five times over the first five games.

Still, the numbers don’t lie. There is improvement — whether it is big or small — in a majority of areas. Thus, Franklin will continue to sell that change is happening at Vanderbilt to his supporters and critics. His most important audience remains the one in the locker room at Vanderbilt Stadium.

“I think we are” better, defensive tackle Rob Lohr said. “We come out and we prepare just as hard, if not harder. It is one of those things you don’t like to compare one season to the other because it is a completely different team. The 2011 Commodores are different than the 2012 Commodores. I think the way we prepare is better and the results will come.”

Here is a breakdown of Vanderbilt’s first five games in the last two years:
                             2012    2011    Difference
Record                    2-3      3-2        -1
Scoring offense        21.2    20.4     +.8
Total offense         366.2    244.4    +121.8
Passing offense      212.6    129.2    +82.4
Rushing offense     153.6    115.2    +38.4
First downs              17.0    11.6      +5.4
Scoring defense        20.6    19.4      -1.2
Total defense         341.4    307.2    -34.2
Passing defense      162.4    199.0    +137.6
Rushing defense     179.0    108.2    -70.8
1st downs allowed    18.2     17.0     -1.2
Turnover margin           0     +5         -5
Time of poss.          29:45    26:52    +2:53
Off. 3rd down conv.    25%    19%     +6%
Def. 3rd down conv.     36%    42%    +6%
Sacks                             9     10        -1
Sacks allowed                13    16        +3
Touchdowns                  11    13        -2
Touchdowns allowed     12    13       +1
Field goals attempted    11    5         +6

Here is a look at the numbers in the Commodores’ first four games against FBS opponents:

                           2012    2011      Difference
Record                  1-3      2-2           -1
Scoring off.           12.0    14.5           -2.5
Total offense        306.5    228.3      +78.2
Passing offen       217.0    117.25     +99.75
Rushing offense     89.5    111.0      -21.5
First downs            15.0    10.5        +4.5
Scoring defense     25.7    20.75      -5
Total defense        389.5   303.25    -86.25
Passing defense     177.5   188.75    +11.25
Rushing defense     212.0   114.5    -98.5
1st downs allowed    21.0   17.0      -4

‚Ä®Turnover margin         -2      +2      -4
Time of poss.           29:32   27:27    +2:05
Off. 3rd down conv.    23%    16%    +7%
Def. 3rd down conv.    40%    44%    +4%
Sacks                            6        8        -2
Sacks allowed               13    15       +2
Touchdowns                  4      7         -3
Touchdowns allowed    12    11        -1
Field goals attempted    8       4       +4

4 Comments on this post:

By: 4gold on 10/10/12 at 7:28

VU graduated too many play makers. They miss Haywood and Fugger that disrupted the QB. They have no pass rush to speak of this year and it hurts. An unmolested QB doesnt make mistakes.

Go Dores, Preds, Titans! Go Nashville a great place to live!

By: 4gold on 10/10/12 at 7:33

Any offensive improvement should be attributed to not having QB Larry Smith following every good play with a bad one. But Rodgers has not exactly set the world on fire. Seems to have trouble finding anyone open and takes too many sacks. THROW THE BALL AWAY1

Go Dores, Preds, Titans! Go Nashville a great place to live!

By: Rasputin72 on 10/10/12 at 7:39

James Franklin is very busy selling the renaissance. If I were he I would skew the statistics to show that a renaissance is in full swing.

Before the season started I felt that Vanderbilt had a chance of beating Northwestern,Presbyterian,Missouri,Auburn,Miss,Tennessee,Kentucky,Wake Forest and UMass.

So far they have beaten Presbyterian and Missouri. They are only one loss behind their prospects. That being Northwestern.

They have lost to South Carolina and Georgia and they will lose to Florida each of whom they had nothing more than a snowball in hot weather of winning.

The possibility of the renaissance surviving and thriving starts with Auburn forward.

By: wiseguy1 on 10/10/12 at 9:35

Statistics always have to be tempered with a dose of reality. Compare/contrast 2011 with 2012 schedule is not a 1 for 1 thru first 4 FBS games. Call Bama & UGa comparable, call 11 & 12 SoCar same, NU and Mizzou are superior to UConn and Ole Miss. I would agree that there is completely different on-field leadership this year, but does that make this a completely different team than 2011? Many returning starters from 2011.

Next two weeks will be crucial to Commodore season. Not sure that UF is up to AP #4 or USA Today #6 national ranking .. LSU might have been worthy of #4 on paper, but certainly wasn't on the field. I think UF has been opportunistic and somewhat lucky, but not that good week in & weekout. Muschamp snippet on Jacksonville TV last night said UF is certainly not looking past VU, his team didn't feel good about last year. Not sure if he meant how the season turned out or that Penn Wager had to come to their rescue to kill a late game VU drive that might have changed the game ... likely both, i think. Auburn & Chiszik seem to be circling the drain this year. VU can, and should, win that one. A quick scan of the SEC statistics shows Auburn for the most part two or more spots below VU. A couple key stats that do not follow this trend are 3rd down conversions, made and allowed. Still not much separation in either category.

Considering a loss to UF, VU can still come out of the season 7-5, knowing that nobody left on the schedule will simply roll over. 7-5 would support the improvement arguement.

So much for theory ... up to the team to stay healthy and execute. QB Frankilin health made a big difference last week @ Mizzou.