Vandy little happier, healthier after bye week

The Vanderbilt Commodores aren’t picky about when they got a

bye. They’re just glad they got one this season, and the timing

couldn’t have been better.

The Commodores (1-2) got to spend the past week celebrating

their 28-14 victory at Mississippi on Sept. 18, a win that ended a

10-game skid in the Southeastern Conference that stretched back to

2008. Robbie Caldwell appreciated the time to heal up almost as

much as his first career victory, making him the first Vanderbilt

coach since 1975 to win his road debut.

”Byes for us are more important than most people because the

numbers,” Caldwell said Monday. ”We don’t have a lot of numbers

so our guys have to practice against each other. It is more like

the pro aspect of it. It is a lot of wear and tear on your

body.”

The Commodores played 12 games in as many weeks last year, which

included eight straight losses to end the season. It was the second

time in four years that the Commodores didn’t receive a bye as they

battled injuries during a 2-10 campaign.

Now they face the challenge of keeping momentum from a

Southeastern Conference victory rolling as they look for

consecutive wins for the first time in two years. The Commodores

visit Connecticut (2-2) on Saturday.

”We’re excited,” Caldwell said. ”I mean we got no reason not

to be. We just had a conference win on the road, which is very hard

to do in this league.”

Caldwell had the Commodores working on different offensive

strategies. Vanderbilt is last in the SEC in scoring offense,

averaging just 17.3 points and 289 yards a game.

The defense, depleted due to injuries, focused on stopping the

run better. That has been a problem so far as the Commodores have

allowed a league-worst 206 yards rushing a game. But Caldwell said

he was impressed with his unit’s play against Mississippi.

”We were outsized,” Caldwell said. ”But we were able to play

with our pads down, jam it up in there and stop them in short

yardage (situations), which is huge play for us.”

Vanderbilt should be a little healthier too with the time

off.

Caldwell said running back Warren Norman, last year’s SEC

Freshman of the Year, looked fresher during practice Sunday. Norman

had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Aug. 25 but has played

in all three games, including running for 111 yards against

Mississippi.

He leads the team with 225 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Zac

Stacy, who has also been trying to recover from his own knee

injury, has rushed for 134 yards and two TDs.

”Those two have been playing well throughout the injuries,”

quarterback Larry Smith said. ”Having them back at 100 percent

will be huge for us.”

Caldwell also is hopeful about the return of tight end Brandon

Barden (lower foot) and defensive back Jamie Graham (groin). But he

said defensive tackles T.J. Greenstone (ankle) and Adam Smotherman

(knee) are questionable, which could mean the rest of the

Commodores’ defensive line might have its work cut out for them

against the Big East’s leading rusher.

Connecticut’s Jordan Todman has rushed for 448 yards in just

three games, and he leads the Big East with a 149.3-yard average,

fifth best in the nation. But Todman injured his arm against Temple

two weeks ago, did not play against Buffalo on Saturday and it is

unknown if he will play against Vanderbilt.

If Todman can’t start, the Huskies will feature Robbie Frey and

D.J. Shoemate at the Commodores.

”They don’t make any bones about it, `We’re going to come at

you with the power O,”’ Caldwell said of UConn’s offense. ”They

are going to slam at you. You better bring your lunch pail.”