AUBURN, Ala. – Moral victories are common in coachspeak, but nowhere to be found in James Franklin’s locker room.
Vanderbilt could be one the sturdiest 2-4 teams in the country – the four teams to defeat Vanderbilt (South Carolina, Northwestern, Georgia and Florida) are a combined 23-3. Jeff Sagarin’s ratings list Vanderbilt’s schedule as third in the country.
But Franklin doesn’t see the Commodores as a tough 2-4 team. They’re just 2-4.
“Playing well against those opponents is important, but the most important thing is wins,” Franklin said. “This whole strength of schedule thing, it only matters if you’re playing for the national championship. Get as many wins as you could possibly get.”
In Franklin’s first season as a head coach, Vanderbilt beat Elon, Connecticut and Ole Miss – none of whom played in a bowl game – at home to open the 2011 season.
The Commodores sputtered to a 2-6 league record, but qualified to play Cincinnati in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, where they lost 31-24 on New Year’s Eve.
“There was a buzz about Vanderbilt, and excitement,” Franklin said. “We’re very similar to where we were last year, but we’ve faced three teams that are in the top six.
“That’s why you look across this league and across the country, people schedule the way they do early in the season, to try to get some success.”
Since 1982, Vanderbilt has just one winning season and one bowl victory, both in 2008.
“That’s the cultural thing you hear everybody talk about, teaching your players, fans, administration, everybody about the expectation of winning,” Franklin said. “The best way to do that is by winning.”
Notoriously the top academic program in the SEC, Vanderbilt has done everything from revamping the uniforms to Vanderbilt Stadium trying to compete with the league’s elite.
“Academically, the highest grades we’ve ever had as a football program; we’re much more competitive on the field, we’re recruiting at a higher level, our guys are making good choices on and off the field,” Franklin said. “The more days you have like that, the Saturdays will start taking care of themselves.”
Wary of Auburn: Franklin won’t allow the Commodores, who lost 13 straight games in the series to Auburn, to overlook their visitors Saturday, and has been gameplanning for the Tigers’ third-string quarterback from Central-Phenix City.
“For us to think this team is not talented would be a major mistake,” Franklin said. “I think the thing we all need to be aware of in our locker room is Jonathan Wallace, who is the guy they are using as the wildcat quarterback. He’s a freshman and you are starting to see that becoming a bigger and bigger package every single week.”
Wright on the defense: On a football field in Nashville won’t be the only place Auburn sophomore defensive tackle Gabe Wright plays defense this week.
Wright doesn’t care to hear about long-term changes that could be in store for the program sooner or later, if the Tigers don’t improve quickly.
“1-5, let’s face it, it sucks,” Wright said. “The absolute truth is we’ve got guys talking about firing coaches, and the truth is, it’s a battle, it’s a fight.”
Wright was a senior at Carver High when Auburn reached the mountaintop in 2010, and showed he’s been a student of success.
“If you look at the national championship year, I would say we we’re down in most cases in the fourth quarter and we had miraculous drives and miraculous stops,” Wright said. “That’s something the (2012) offense and defense wasn’t able to do in most cases. We allowed too many explosive plays in the fourth quarter and at the same time on the offensive side of the ball we didn’t get many. So its one of those things we’ve got to keep working at and that’s what we stressed this week.”
Wright understands the fans’ frustration, and won’t beg for forgiveness for himself or head coach Gene Chizik.
“He hasn’t gotten four full recruiting classes, and that’s not any excuse at all,” Wright said. “We’ve got the guys in place, we’ve got the coaches in place. I can guarantee that. Its all comes down to us finishing and executing.”
From the infirmary: Chizik said junior cornerback Chris Davis “is in a much better place” and practiced Wednesday night. Meanwhile, defensive end Dee Ford and center Reese Dismukes figure to be Friday decisions on whether they make the trip.
Sophomore quarterback Kiehl Frazier (sore arm) hasn’t been ruled out for Saturday, thus prolonging Auburn’s announcement on a starter yet to be determined. Chizik said Frazier has a “nagging injury” but practiced Wednesday.
Pat’s got his swag: Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes had high praise for true freshman right tackle Patrick Miller’s effort at Ole Miss, following a dreadful performance the previous week against Arkansas.
“This game in particular, I thought he came into his own in terms of just being comfortable being out there as a starter,” Grimes said. “I saw some of that confidence I saw when I recruited him, when he thought he was the baddest man on the field.”