James Franklin insisted Saturday’s Southeastern Conference opener against Ole Miss was just another game.
His tears said otherwise.
The emotions spilled out of Vanderbilt’s first-year coach as he proudly soaked in the Commodores’ 30-7 whipping of the Rebels in front of 34,579 at Vanderbilt Stadium.
“That win is for Chancellor [Nicholas] Zeppos. That win is for Vice Chancellor [David] Williams,” Franklin said before his eyes welled up as he stood silent for nearly 20 seconds at his postgame press conference.
“That win is for our kids,” he continued as tears streamed down his face. “That win is for our coaches ... and how hard we have worked. We are really, really proud of these kids. That win is for our loyal fans that have showed up here for a long time, looking for something to believe in. So I'm just really proud. I don't know what the stats are. I don't really know what the score is but it is a win.”
Coach, here are some highlights: junior Zac Stacy rushed for a career-high 169 yards, the defense had five interceptions and Vanderbilt scored 21 points in the last 5:40 of the first half to break open a scoreless game.
The result is significant for numerous reasons. Franklin is only the second Vanderbilt coach to win his SEC debut — Ray Morrison last did it in 1935. He is also the school’s first head coach to start 3-0 in his first year since World War II.
The Commodores have defeated Ole Miss (1-2) in five of the last seven meetings. Most important, three games into the season, Vanderbilt is 3-0 — halfway to bowl eligibility — after consecutive 2-10 seasons.
“This is what we expect,” cornerback Trey Wilson said. “As hard as we have been working we are going to approach every game like we did the first one. ... It is a series of steps. We got to get better.”
Vanderbilt broke open a scoreless battle by scoring 21 points in the last 5:40 of the first half.
Quarterback Larry Smith started the scoring on a 19-yard scamper to the end zone. Barely a minute later, Wilson picked up first of two interceptions. Defensive end Walker May hit Ole Miss quarterback Zack Stoudt, forcing a wobbly pass that landed right into the hands of Wilson. He returned it 52 yards for his second interception touchdown return of the season. Vanderbilt has returned three interceptions for touchdowns — the most in a single season.
The Commodores have picked off 10 passes, with Wilson leading the way with three.
“Trey does have a nice knack for that,” defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. “He really went up and high-pointed the ball well and played it in the air.”
“I think it is a complementary thing,” Wilson said. “We do our job in coverage giving [the defensive line] time to get there. They get pressure and give us those throwups like that and we go make plays.”
The Commodores cruised in the second half and only a late fourth-quarter touchdown kept them from their first shutout in two years.
Still, the win was Vanderbilt’s largest margin of victory in an SEC game (49-19 against Mississippi State) in 40 years.
“I have a tremendous sense of pride,” Franklin said about his team. “I am an emotional guy anyway. My wife makes fun of me in movies and commercials and all that kind of stuff. But I know how hard these guys have worked and I don’t take it for granted. A lot of times, as football coaches, we try to be tough guys. I love those kids. It means a lot to me.”