OPENED 'DORESSEC East teams and their record in the last 16 games:• Georgia: 12-4• South Carolina: 12-4• Vanderbilt: 12-4• Missouri: 11-5• Florida: 9-7• Tennessee: 6-10• Kentucky: 3-13
November is no longer Vanderbilt's least favorite month.
The Commodores won their sixth consecutive November game last Saturday with their 34-17 surprise drubbing of Florida in the Swamp. When Vanderbilt coach James Franklin arrived in Nashville after the 2010 season, the Commodores had lost nine November games in a row.
"Our most impressive stat is our record late in the year, but with our team it's about preparation and approach and focusing on the fundamentals," Franklin said Monday during his weekly news conference. "I'm very proud from a program perspective that we get better every week, and I'm not talking about the scoreboard or the results. I'm talking about watching the tape and watching these guys individually get better with their techniques and fundamentals."
Vanderbilt hopes to continue its November success this Saturday against visiting Kentucky, which is 2-7 under first-year coach Mark Stoops. The Commodores have routed the Wildcats by a combined score of 78-8 the past two seasons and are two-touchdown favorites this time.
With a 5-4 record, the Commodores need just one more win for bowl eligibility, and their players insist they will be focused following their first win in Gainesville since 1945.
"Too many pats on the back make you soft -- that's something my dad always said," senior defensive end Walker May said at Monday's media session. "What we're going to try to do is win each week. It is one week at a time, one game at a time. The past is in the past.
"It doesn't matter who we've played or what the outcome was, our goal is to go 1-0 this week."
The "going 1-0" slogan has been used ever since the Franklin regime opened in 2011 with a 45-24 win over Elon. Franklin is now 20-15 in his third season, which has become historic with victories over Georgia and Florida in the same year for the first time ever.
"It's not a disgrace to lose to Vanderbilt," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday at his news conference when he was asked about Florida.
Should the Commodores become bowl-eligible, they will have earned as many postseason bids under Franklin as in their first 75 years in the SEC.
"The consistency in our routine has helped us, and I also think we don't change our plan," Franklin said. "We're a fundamentalist program, and in the long run, I think that allows you to get better throughout a season. Individually and collectively, we've been able to do that.
"We focus on blocking, tackling and ball security, and our players understand our approach."
Franklin also believes the success of the past two seasons could aid his players when they are asked by students and fans about bowl possibilities. The Commodores have played bowls each of the past two years in the state of Tennessee but could have more say in their travel plans by closing with wins over Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest, who are a combined 10-19.
"We've been dealing with this for three years now, so it's not like it's their first time," Franklin said. "When we got here, it could not have been more negative. We were able to go to a bowl in our first year, so our guys had to learn how to handle that. Last year it was the same thing.
"I'm very pleased with our team's perseverance this year. We've handled adversity, and now we've got to show that we can handle success."
The biggest adversity Vanderbilt has faced is the ongoing rape investigation that resulted in four player dismissals in June and wound up claiming the career of starting receiver Chris Boyd. The Commodores also couldn't escape what has been an injury-plagued SEC East, losing quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels in the upset win over Georgia.
Vanderbilt managed just 12 first downs and 187 yards last week in Gainesville but snatched three interceptions and scored touchdowns after all three. The Commodores, who are now guided by redshirt freshman quarterback Patton Robinnette, were in the red zone six times and scored every time.
"It's hard to put up a bunch of yards when you have a short field," said Franklin, whose defense held the Gators to 39 yards on 34 rushes.
Franklin called Kentucky this week's Super Bowl and that there would be no changes in preparation. Though he is heavy on routine and consistency, Franklin did share his vision for an even better Vanderbilt down the road, and not just in future Novembers.
"For me, the first thing is selling out the stadium on a consistent basis," Franklin said. "That must happen, and then we've got to keep pushing the facilities. Facilities show a commitment from everyone involved, and you're also able to sell the game-day experience. We've made tremendous strides, but we still have a long way to go.
"That's where the fans are so important, because for us to continue taking the strides we need to take, we have to generate revenue. The best way to generate revenue is selling out the games on a consistent basis, so that's the next step for us."
Contact David Paschall at [email protected] or 423-757-6524.