Vanderbilt’s Robbie Caldwell is carving out his coaching style as he goes along in his first season as head coach. Last Saturday against Northwestern, he established that he isn’t scared to roll the dice.
When kicker Ryan Fowler missed the extra point attempt following a second quarter Warren Norman touchdown, Caldwell got risky to make up the difference. Following Brandon Barden’s 36-yard touchdown reception late in the third quarter, the score was 17-15. Caldwell went for two to try and make it even.
The call was a quarterback draw sending Larry Smith up the middle, but the Wildcats' defense read and stuffed the play. Many football minds adhere to always taking the points via kicking when you have the opportunity early on.
Caldwell has suffered some criticism for the decision to go for two, but none from his conscience.
“That’s why we have the two-point play, so we have a chance to recover from that [missed PAT],” Caldwell said. “And yes I’d have done it again. Every time I’d have went for two. I’ll do it this week [against LSU] if it comes down to it.”
Down 23-21, the Commodores tried again to go for two points with just over two minutes left in the game. That call was more out of necessity with time running out.
Caldwell showed brass on fourth down against Northwestern as well.
Starting with 13 minutes left in the forth quarter, down 17-15, Vanderbilt put together a four-minute drive. It would have ended on the second set of downs if not for Caldwell’s faith in his offense. Facing forth-and-2 on the Northwestern 41, Caldwell made the call to hand off to running back Warren Norman. Norman had solid blocks on the left and followed them to a 10-yard gain and a fresh set of downs.
“I’ve go that much confidence in my offense and particularly him,” said Caldwell. “So it’s not rolling the dice, I’ve got complete faith in them. I knew Warren would get it and those guys would get the blocking done up there. Jimmy Kiser did a good job getting us in the right play.”
The call was a massive vote of confidence in his offense. The gesture has not gone unnoticed in the VU locker room.
“It feels great [to get the call on forth down],” Norman said. “Coach had confidence in me to get the first down on forth down and I’m glad he did. We ended up getting it.”
“It gives us an edge as far as mentality goes,” running back Zac Stacy added. “For me as an offensive player I get excited about that. Just knowing anytime it’s forth-and-goal or forth-and-short, we’ll be able to go for it.”
In fact, the only play calling decision Caldwell hinted at regretting in his debut was punting on the first series of the game. Facing forth-and-3 on Northwestern’s 33-yard line the Commodores punted the ball to the Wildcats and lost the energy generated by Eric Samuels’ opening 44-yard kickoff return.
“I’d have went for it one more time earlier but I didn’t make the call, I thought we understood,” Caldwell said. “In the very first series, I should have gone for it there.”
• Freshman cornerback Steven Clarke returned to the defensive side of practice on Tuesday. Clarke, who played tailback in high school, had been taking reps as a running back while the rest of the running back corps was weakened by injuries. On Tuesday, freshman linebacker Micah Powell took over that role. Powell also played as a running back in high school.
“Everybody [at running back] was healthy but Micah Powell moved over there today and did a great job,” said Caldwell. “I’m glad he’s there, he asked me about moving there.”
• Junior corner back Jamie Graham, who did not play against Northwestern due to a nagging groin injury, was back in practice Tuesday. He is expected to be ready for Saturday’s matchup against LSU.