Franklin's family time will include an occasional glance at television

Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 11:07pm

On Saturday night, James Franklin plans to relax with his wife and two young daughters and enjoy a nice home-cooked meal.

“I don’t get to spend enough time with them,” Franklin said.

Of course, Vanderbilt’s first-year head coach won’t be far from a TV either.

While the Commodores sit idle this weekend, their next opponent, No. 3 Alabama, plays at No. 12 Florida at 6 p.m. Saturday. Franklin will be watching closely, hoping to use the extra week to figure out how his sluggish offense can crack Alabama’s punishing defense.

“The bye week couldn’t come at a better time for us,” Franklin said.

But Alabama definitely will be Vanderbilt’s biggest hurdle in Southeastern Conference play when the two teams meet in Tuscaloosa at 6 p.m. next Saturday. The Crimson Tide (4-0, 1-0) rank second in the country in both total defense and scoring defense, allowing just eight points a game.

The Commodores (3-1, 1-1), on the other hand, are trying to rebound after their worst offensive performance of the season in a 21-3 loss at then-No. 12 South Carolina. They mustered just 77 total yards and netted just four rushing yards.

“We made a good defense look great,” quarterback Larry Smith said.

But through four games, the offense has struggled to stay on the field, eerily similar to performances from the 2009 and 2010 squads, which both went 2-10. In fact, despite this team’s quick 3-0 start, Vanderbilt ranks 117th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total offense (285 yards per game).

The Commodores are last in third-down conversions, converting just 20 percent (11-of-55). They were 1-of-14 on third downs against South Carolina.

“We are putting ourselves in second-and-longs, which is going to make it tough for us to get a third-and-long conversion,” Smith said. “It is really tough for Coach to call the right play on third-and-12, third-and-15. We have to get the distance shorter on first and second downs.”

Franklin believes there is more to it. He pointed to a lower than desired percentage of completed passes and poor quarterback protection. He added they are choosing to run the ball on third downs more than he is used to, “which I think is good,” he said. But the Commodores haven’t executed all their blocking assignments on those plays.

“It is a combination of things,” Franklin said. “Me and [offensive coordinator John Donovan] went through and broke down every single thing and looked for a common theme that maybe is the reason. Maybe it is poor-decision making by the quarterback, poor protection, maybe it’s the route running — we’re not getting enough separation. It is really just a combination. ... On offense, you better have every single guy working together or you are going to have a hard time, especially on third down.”

If the they don’t make strides on offense, next Saturday night might not be as relaxing for Franklin and the Commodores.

“Obviously playing a team like South Carolina [last week], watching Alabama on film now. ... I think we understand the magnitude and the talent that this league has and the challenges that this league has,” Franklin said.