The Vanderbilt Commodores know they need to do a better job offensively from the opening kickoff. Knowing is one thing, fixing the problem is proving more of a challenge than expected.
The Commodores have been outscored 31-3 in the first quarter of their first three games, and South Carolina jumped out to a 28-0 lead beating Vanderbilt 35-25 last weekend. Coach James Franklin said Monday the Commodores must start better and execute.
"We've got to make plays earlier in the game on offense, defense and special teams," Franklin said. "I think we've got to make sure our kids understand. We're a blue-collar program, and we've said that before. We can't afford to give plays away. We can't afford to give quarters away. We've got to come out and do what we're supposed to do for four quarters. We're just going to emphasize it and keep practicing and I think it'll take care of itself."
The slow starts have cost the Commodores (1-2) in both their losses against Southeastern Conference teams. Franklin said he has moved up a drill in practice that pits the first-team offense against the first-team defense from the middle to just after the Commodores wrap up stretching. But the coach also pointed out Vanderbilt's two losses came to teams ranked in the Top 25 in Mississippi, now No. 21, and No. 12 South Carolina.
"We need to get better in a lot of different areas," Franklin said.
But the Commodores managed only four first downs and 95 yards of offense in the first half against South Carolina in their first road game this season. This is a team with seasoned quarterback in Austyn Carta-Samuels, and he wound up only 12 of 22 for 147 yards. He wound up sacked five times despite an offensive line that features three juniors and a senior.
Carta-Samuels said they have avoid putting too much pressure on themselves to improve even though they must get better.
"The facts are the facts," Carta-Samuels said. "And what we can control is our assignments and doing what we're asked to do and we're going to get our focus together and make sure we're extremely detailed in how we start the game and practice for that matter."
The Commodores might want to play Wesley Tate sooner. Jerron Seymour got his first career start at South Carolina, and Seymour ran six times for 39 yards and a touchdown. Tate, a senior, came in and ran 10 times for 71 yards and also caught a pass for 19 yards.
"I could see in his eyes he was frustrated with what I don't know, but it's good to see that look because he ran like a bull and he ran hard," Carta-Samuels said of Tate. "When No. 24 does that, he is tough to stop and I don't know who can stop him in this conference. I'm excited to see him run like that for the next nine games, because he definitely showed what he could do Saturday."
The schedule offers Vanderbilt a two-game swing through their nonconference schedule and the chance to fix these issues before diving back into the meat of the SEC schedule. The Commodores visit Massachusetts (0-3) on Saturday in Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, part of a deal where they get two home games in this trip.
Vanderbilt has won five straight nonconference games, a streak that includes a 49-7 win over UMass in Nashville last season.
"We are going to bring our own energy," defensive end Walker May said. "We are going to be loud and jumping around on the sidelines and we are going to be really excited to play this game."
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