For more than a year and a half James Franklin strutted up and down sidelines, preened for cameras and crowed for crowds as if he was a peacock.
Turns out he is an ostrich.
After his team laid a giant egg in the second half at Northwestern the Vanderbilt football coach elected to bury his head in the sand and pretend the Commodores did not lose their first two games of 2012. At least that was his story and he was sticking to it after Saturday’s 58-0 romp over Presbyterian College at Vanderbilt Stadium.
“We are undefeated in the 2012 season that started [Saturday],” Franklin said. “That was kind of our mindset coming into it. We can’t control the things that happened in the past. We can control the things that happen from [Saturday] on forward.
“… For our, 2012 season we’re undefeated right now. That’s our mentality. That’s how we’re taking it.”
Of course, the relative success of Franklin’s first season — six wins and a bowl appearance — combined with the effectiveness of his promotional efforts raised expectations for this fall to the point that a victory over a championship subdivision opponent — and not a particularly strong one — is not about to wipe away the disappointment of consecutive defeats to South Carolina and Northwestern. Plus, the standings still show the Commodores are 1-2, one of only two teams in the SEC’s Eastern Division that has yet to win twice.
There were, though, notable differences against Presbyterian.
The run game, for example, the SEC’s worst through the first two weeks, racked up 410 yards beginning with Zac Stacy’s 86-yard touchdown run on Vanderbilt’s first offensive play. The defense forced turnovers that led to points, including Trey Wilson’s 100-yard interception return for a touchdown with 2:27 to play in the first half.
“Just a renewed focus,” Wilson said. “The whole tempo in practice [last week] was turned up to level that it hasn’t been in the past. Coming off the first game, [which was] a tough loss, the second game we didn’t play our brand of football.
“We got in [last] week, renewed our focus, got everything where we needed to play, played our brand of football and the numbers speak for themselves.”
Most notable among the changes, though, was the choice of quarterback, another development Franklin has done his best to ignore. Austyn Carta-Samuels replaced Jordan Rodgers, who was all too prone to giveaways during the first two weeks.
Carta-Samuels was not available to the media following in the contest, the first in which he played for Vanderbilt. In fact, Franklin and university’s sports information staff has refused to allow either quarterback to answer questions since prior to the Northwestern game.
“Both [Carta-Samuels] and [Rodgers] do a wonderful job,” guard Josh Jelesky said. “They’re both great quarterbacks. We’re just going to block our asses off for whoever’s out there.”
A former starter at Wyoming who sat out 2011 due to NCAA transfer rules, Carta-Samuels completed 13 of 20 passes for 195 yards and one touchdown. Rodgers, who threw a costly interception against South Carolina and lost two fumbles at Northwestern, spent the entire day in a headset except when he served as holder on field goals and extra points.
Franklin said the decision to change was made early in the week and “finalized” a day or two before the contest. He suggested Carta-Samuels is the starter going forward but declined to say that is the case definitively for Saturday’s game at Georgia (6:45 p.m., ESPN2).
“If we feel like Austyn gives us a better chance to win against Georgia, based on the film compared to the two previous games, then we’ll make that decision,” Franklin said.
Of course, that comparison would be much more difficult if those previous two games didn’t exist.
• Franklin took a subtle shot at Vanderbilt’s fans after only a small fraction of the announced crowd of 35,491 stuck around to the finish in order to celebrate the victory.
“I love the fans that stayed until the very end of the game in the stadium and sang the alma mater with us,” he said.
• Wilson became the first Vanderbilt player ever with three interception returns for touchdowns in a career and the second in as many seasons to take back one 100 yards. Linebacker Archibald Barnes had a 100-yard return last year against Tennessee.
“[The receiver] was on top of me when I caught it,” Wilson said. “I shook loose of him. I thought about going down, but when I looked and saw straight down the sideline I had to go.”
• Warren Norman was the fourth running back to carry the ball for the Commodores. But his first attempt, which gained four yards early in the second quarter and was his first at home in nearly two years, drew a noticeable reaction from the crowd as did his three-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
The 2009 SEC freshman of the year missed all of 2011 because of a knee injury.
“Everybody was excited for him to get back out there,” Stacy said. “… Hopefully he can continue to make a big contribution for us on offense.”