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September 11, 2012

Looking back to Northwestern, ahead to Presbyterian

The Commodores dropped a tough one Saturday, blowing a fourth-quarter lead against Northwestern as road favorites. The schedule eases up considerably this week against Presbyterian -- here's what coach James Franklin and players had to say about regrouping from a tough loss.


Painful lessons from Northwestern leave a mark

James Franklin's tenure as VU's coach has been an easy one as it comes to dealing with the public. Franklin has practically been given the key to the city as the Commodores unexpectedly made a bowl game, had a great recruiting class last year, and has assembled an even-better one (so far) for the coming season.

Franklin is, by nature, a pleasant person. But, it's easy to be cheerful with everyone when you're out-performing expectations at a place that had virtually no expectations.

Now, the bloom has started to fall off Franklin's rose a bit after a disappointing loss to Northwestern (the Commodores were road favorites). Franklin's heard the criticism in the first few games over everything from personnel decisions to offensive philosophy to even giving fans a false sense of hope for this season in which the Commodores have started 0-2.

A lot of coaches would be thin-skinned under the circumstances; his predecessor, Bobby Johnson, certainly was at times. That made Monday's press conference one of the biggest tests of Franklin's career so far, given that Franklin is just 40 and in his second year as a head coach.

Would he snap at questions over coaching decisions?

Would he question fan loyalty?

Would he throw a player or two under the bus?

Turns out Franklin handled it just fine. He took the podium with a smile. His message to fans: he understands their frustration, but asks them to stay the course because things are getting better.

"I don't know if (improvement) necessarily showed, but we learned valuable lessons, and we are getting better. I know there's a frustration with our fans. The light started shining, and there was hope. All that is still there," he said.

"One game, one moment is not going to define what we're going to be as a program. I know the young men sitting in that locker room hurt just as much as any of our fans. They want it bad. They want to be successful."

Franklin's hurting, too. He admitted to not being a very good traveling companion to his wife on the trip home. When the Commodores' flight was delayed and didn't arrive until 4 a.m. Sunday, Franklin went straight to work. He didn't leave the office until 10 that evening, wearing the same suit he wore on the flight home.

There's still a lot of work to be done. A lot of it starts on the offensive line, where the Commodores haven't played well the first two weeks. VU is averaging just 2.3 yards per rush, and quarterback Jordan Rodgers has been sacked eight times for combined losses of 55 yards.

Franklin says that it's not one or two problem areas that plague VU so much as a bunch of little things that vary from one play to the next. Left tackle Wesley Johnson agreed.

"A lot of guys that weren't focused enough. I can think of two plays right off the top of my head that got killed because I didn't block right," Johnson said.

"We're focusing a lot more and paying a lot more attention to every detail, and that'll be the difference from what you've seen the last two weeks to what we're doing now," he added later.

Franklin said before the opener against South Carolina that his bunch felt it could beat anyone. That prompted a question as to whether VU had become over-confident or wasn't as hungry as it was a year before. Answers from players differed depending on who you asked.

"That's on us as a team," Johnson said. "I think we were complacent. I don't know if you can say we got entitled or how all that works out, but we didn't handle… what little success we had last year very well, because obviously we weren't used to us.

"We talked about it yesterday. We're going to start coming back and playing with that edge, with a chip on our shoulder."

"I don't think that we're feeling a sense of entitlement at all," said defensive end Johnell Thomas. "We played two really good teams. I'm not a man of excuses… we played those games, we lost them.

"I think the important thing for us to remember is we have so much more ahead of us. … We take those outcomes and we leave them behind us."


Presbyterian offers Commodores an easier path

Franklin pointed out on Monday that few BCS teams have played a tougher schedule in the first two weeks in South Carolina and Northwestern.

"I don't know if you could find another team in the (Southeastern Conference) and very few teams in the country that have opened with two BCS, returning bowl teams. We've played the number nine team in the country, and a team that's been to four straight bowl games that we played on the road," he said.

Within his own league, Franklin was close to the mark: only Auburn (Clemson, Mississippi State) had done so thus far.

If the Commodores can't find a win this week, there will certainly be no talk of scheduling. Georgia Tech torched the FCS's Blue Hose for 712 yards in a 59-3 rout last weekend.

Presbyterian totaled just 243 yards itself, and didn't score until a field goal with 5 seconds left.

The Blue Hose will run a 4-3 defense and play a Cover-4. However, Franklin noted that Presbyterian has played a pair of triple-option teams in its first two games and thus the 'Dores won't have a good idea as to its tendencies since it hasn't run its normal defense much.

Offensively, Presbyterian will run a spread with a heavy emphasis on the run. Running backs Lance Byrd (31 carries, 195 yards) and DeMarcus Rouse (14-for-146) will be the guys to watch, along with quarterback Tamyn Garrick (22-of-44, 203 yards, one TD, one interception).

PC routed Brevard College 45-10 in its opener. Brevard is a Division II school in North Carolina with about 650 students.

The Commodores will be playing this week without starting safety Kenny Ladler, who wasn't on the depth chart this week. Javon Marshall will start at free safety this week, with Eric Samuels listed first on the depth chart at the strong sisde.

Franklin would not comment on the nature of Ladler's injury or when he might be back. He left the Northwestern game in the second half.


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