NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Vanderbilt's new coaching staff spent August preaching about the importance of forcing turnovers and
protecting the ball. The Commodores now are seeing the results of
that focus as they lead the Southeastern Conference in turnover
margin through their 2-0 start.
The Commodores already have five interceptions, with two returned for touchdowns. In contrast, they had nine last year in their 2-10 season.
They rank plus-4 in turnover margin, which is the best in the
SEC and 10th nationally. They lead the league with seven sacks.
Tackle Rob Lohr was named the SEC's defensive lineman of the
week for his four tackles for loss in the game, and the defense had
five sacks and forced four turnovers in last weekend's 24-21 win
"It's been huge for us," defensive end Walker May said Monday. "I guess UConn, they did like a max protect kind of thing where they protected everybody, and we were still able to get back there and causing turnovers, so it's a huge confidence booster going into this week."
Coach James Franklin, the first coach to start 2-0 at Vanderbilt
since Fred Pancoast in 1975, thinks the way his defense is creating
turnovers is the story of the season so far.
"The defense is playing really well. We've got to start strong and finish strong. We've got to run to the ball and pursue and tackle better," Franklin said.
The Commodores held UConn to 193 yards total offense on 65 plays
with 91 of those coming after Vanderbilt gave up an opening drive
that went 72 yards. Tim Fugger had sacks of different quarterbacks
on consecutive plays, while safety Kenny Ladler set up Vandy's
first touchdown with an interception.
Cornerback Casey Hayward scored Vandy's final TD on a 50-yard
interception return, the first of his career. Vandy now has scored
defensive touchdowns in consecutive games for the first time since
May said each defender turns immediately to block on a turnover in trying to help a teammate get to the end zone.
"Everybody played a little offense in high school, so everyone turns to block and make the play for him," May said.
Franklin brought the emphasis on protecting the ball and forcing
turnovers with him from Maryland. The Terrapins ranked plus-15 in
the differential between takeaways and giveaways in 2010, going 9-4
and playing in a bowl game. Vanderbilt was minus-4 last season.
The Commodores will be challenged Saturday when Mississippi
(1-1) visits. The Rebels picked off four of their five passes in
last weekend's 42-24 win over Southern Illinois, and it's a huge
improvement over last season when they had only six all of 2010.
"Defensively, I'm interested to see how our defense is going to respond after gaining a whole lot of confidence last week in how
they played," Franklin said.