The throbbing headache overwhelming Vanderbilt coach James Franklin just minutes into last weekend’s game at Massachusetts didn’t last long.
He believes the same is true of the bevy of penalties that tempted him to reach for the aspirin. They won’t become a reoccurring nuisance.
“We can definitely clean it up,” Franklin said on Monday during his weekly press conference. “It was definitely frustrating. ... But correctable. Very correctable. We haven’t done that pretty much all year long. We did have the issue at Georgia, dealing with the noise a little bit. For the last two years we’ve been, for the most part, disciplined.”
Vanderbilt enters Saturday’s game at Kentucky (1-8, 0-6) with 49 penalties for.376 yards That’s the fifth-most in the SEC on both counts. But nearly a fourth of the flags occurred during a 49-7 win over UMass.
The Commodores committed 11 penalties for a season-high 80 yards. The flags were the most since 11 in last month's loss at Georgia, a game in which the score was nearly revered (48-3).
Vanderbilt (4-4, 2-3 SEC) got off to a bad start against the Minutemen with a holding call on the opening kickoff. The first drive, which ended in a punt, was littered with flags. An illegal shift was called on the ninth play for Vanderbilt’s sixth penalty. With 10:49 left in the first quarter, an upset Franklin called a timeout.
“I thought I actually had a vein that was going to explode in the middle of my forehead in the middle of the game,” he said. “The penalties that happen during the game, as coaches we can live with them. It is the pre-snap procedural penalties that drive you crazy.”
The violations varied from offensive and defensive holding to false starts to offsides to a personal foul for an illegal block.
Five different offensive linemen committed penalties, including redshirt-freshman Jake Bernstein and sophomore Chase White. The underclassmen were filling in at right tackle for the injured Josh Jelesky. Franklin believed rotating inexperienced offensive linemen contributed to the issues.
Left tackle Wesley Johnson, however, didn’t want to use that as an excuse. Instead the junior who has made 33 straight starts believes a lack of focus — perhaps distracted by homecoming festivities — accounted for mental miscues.
“I think that was us just not being ready to play,” left tackle Wesley Johnson said. “We weren’t as focused as we needed to be coming out of the gates. I think we sort of settled down, grouped up and went out and took care of business.”
• Stacy’s status: Running back Zac Stacy is expected to start against Kentucky.
Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rusher left the Massachusetts game after he injured his right ankle on the opening drive. Stacy, who carried the ball just five times for 15 yards, returned to the sideline with a splint on his ankle.
“He told me he’ll be ready to go,” Franklin said. “He told me that he could have went back in on Saturday as well as our [athletic] trainers. So we’ll see.”
Franklin also said he expects Jelesky and defensive tackle Colt Nichter to be available. Jelesky injured his leg against Auburn. Nichter hasn’t played since Oct. 13 against Florida.
• Near perfect: Jordan Rodgers nearly broke the school record for completion percentage.
The senior threw for 217 yards, two touchdowns and completed 80.9 percent of his throws (17 of 21). Hank Lesesne set the mark of 81.8 completion percentage against Georgia in 1961. Unfortunately, one week later, Lesesne also set the dubious record for most interceptions in a game with five against Alabama.
Rodgers has completed 58.9 percent of his passes and thrown just two interceptions. His first came on his fourth pass of the season against South Carolina on Aug. 30. He went a career-high 88 straight passes without another interception until underthrowing a pass against Missouri earlier this month. Since then, he’s had 87 consecutive passes either go to his teammates or fall incomplete.
“I guess he’s a little more confident,” Johnson said. “I guess things are just starting to come together. We’re being more cohesive. I guess you could say we’re in midseason form or whatever, but I was happy for him to play well. He deserves a good game like that because of how hard he works as well.”
• Game time: Vanderbilt’s road game at Ole Miss on Nov. 10 will air at 6 p.m. on ESPNU.