November 2, 2011

Vanderbilt excited about direction of program

If you were told before the season began that Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp and Vanderbilt Commodores head coach James Franklin would have the same record before their meeting in Gainesville, FL this Saturday, you probably would not have believed that. Should you have been informed that Vanderbilt has a legitimate shot to defeat Florida in their homecoming game and may even help knock the Gators out of being bowl eligible, chances are you would be quite surprised.

Nevertheless, that is where things stand heading into Saturday's contest. Franklin and his team - coming off a pair of heartbreaking losses in three weeks to Georgia (33-28) and Arkansas (31-28) - appear to be hitting their stride in his first year on the job and plan to take their frustration out on UF this week.

"Our guys are real excited to get back out on the field," Franklin said Wednesday during the Southeastern Conference's teleconference. "We had an emotional, hard-fought game last week that we came up short on. Our kids and our coaches are looking forward to getting back on the field, getting the bad taste out of our mouth.

"Our last two SEC games really both were tough, hard-fought, emotional games. Our guys are just really looking forward to going down to The Swamp. It's a great atmosphere for college football."

The Commodores have a unique opportunity to end their 65-year drought of being unable to defeat the Gators on their home turf. Vanderbilt is winless in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium since 1945, a fact Franklin recognizes but claims will not be a motivating factor for his team this week.

"We don't talk about things like that. It's not a focus for us," he said. "Where we're at as a program, every week is a significant win for us. We don't look at one game or one venue or whether it's out of conference or whether it's in conference as any more significant than any other. We try to be the best Vanderbilt we can be week in and week out.

"We want to be undefeated at the end of this week. That's kind of our schedule and our philosophy of how we do thing around here. When you get into [making one game more important than another], I think you start to overlook what you're emphasis needs to be. Our emphasis is just being the best Vanderbilt we can be."

Though Vandy is 4-4 heading into Saturday's clash, that record is two wins better than it was a year ago at this time and the losses to Georgia and Arkansas are two games Franklin wish his team had back. The Commodores appear to be raising the bar on their performance each week, something that Vanderbilt fans are recognizing and appreciating.

"People are very, very excited with the direction that we're going," Franklin said. "I'm very proud of our guys. I have people come up to me from the rec[reation] center or come up to me from the dining hall or come up to me from the hotels we stay in about how our guys carry themselves, how they present themselves and how we're competing on the field. People are just really, really proud and excited about the direction we're going.

"I'm glad our kids are hearing that because they haven't heard a whole lot of positives over the last few years. We just got to put it all together. We got to learn to finish, and in the end we got to have some more positive results with the Ws."

In order to take down Florida, Vanderbilt hopes to have some success against the Gators' front seven. Though they are big, strong, physical and athletic, UF will go against a VU offense that has had plenty of experience facing good defenses this year.

"The fortunate thing is that we have played some good people - especially in the front seven - and we've played some good people on the road with South Carolina and Alabama. That helps us get a little bit prepared for this challenge," Franklin explained. "I think our kids are getting better every single week. You look at statistically how competitive the games are. I know our guys are looking forward - especially our offensive line, tight ends and running backs - to go against their front seven."

Florida is looking to get off the schneid after dropping four-straight games for the first time since 1988. The Gators are also hoping to atone for losing their homecoming game last season.

Saturday's game is a key moment in the season for both teams.

"They're getting better every single week up front just like we are," Franklin said. "It's going to be interesting to see how this whole thing plays out. We have some things that we think we want to attack and take advantage of just like they feel like they do. It should be an interesting chess match on Saturday."

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