James Franklin says he is not criticizing Vanderbilt fans. He’s merely educating them.
The Commodores (2-4, 1-3 SEC) have sold out their second consecutive home game for the first time in 16 years, but Franklin is asking for more than a full stadium when Auburn (1-5, 0-4) visits on Saturday (11:21 a.m., WUXP-30).
He wants a true home-field advantage.
“I’m not calling anybody out,” Franklin said. “I’m educating, and I’m very appreciative of the fans and how they’ve been behind us since we’ve been here. But I want more. Just like they want more from me and our team, I want more from them.”
After a 31-17 loss to Florida on Saturday, Franklin voiced the need for Vanderbilt fans to do better at making their presence felt when an opponent’s offense faces third down or is backed up toward its own end zone.
Franklin elaborated during his Monday press conference for nearly three minutes.
“Have fun all you want all morning,” Franklin said. “Forty-five minutes before kickoff, be in the stands ready to go. Eye black, whatever you’ve got to do, body paint … get going and get ready to go.
“Third down, we need a home-field advantage like we face when we go into other teams’ stadiums. Third down, the place going crazy. Not one person sitting down, not one person with their mouth closed. I don’t care if you’re 95. I don’t care if you’re 4. You’re screaming like crazy for the ‘Dores.
“When we have someone backed up to the closed end zone, just like a lot of stadiums when you’re backed up into your own end zone, we need to treat that like third down. You gotta be going crazy, because if we can hold on to that field position and give our offense a short field, that’s important.”
The last time Vanderbilt sold out consecutive home games was when Notre Dame and Ole Miss visited Nashville in September 1996.
Running back Wesley Tate and defensive end Johnell Thomas expressed their appreciation for the improved fan support, but they agreed with their coach that more noise is needed.
“Two (consecutive sellouts) since how long? Ninety-six? I mean, it’s a great accomplishment,” Thomas said. “We’re making our strides as a team, as a family, as fans coming to the game. It’s positive for everybody.
“We just want a hostile environment with the fans, to have the fans to get involved in the games,” Thomas said. “Because anybody that plays the game knows that fans play a huge role in the momentum shift of a game.”
Auburn has lost three in a row, including Saturday’s 41-20 defeat at Ole Miss. The Tigers’ lone win came over Louisiana-Monroe in overtime. Franklin said that for anyone to think Auburn is not talented would be a major mistake.
Vanderbilt was off Monday but spent much of Sunday’s practice focusing on defending the quarterback run and will continue to harp on that throughout the week. Florida’s Jeff Driskel ran for 177 yards and three touchdowns on just 11 carries against the Commodores on Saturday.
Franklin said there would be no personnel changes at linebacker despite the Commodores’ struggles against the run. They rank last in the SEC at 203.5 yards per game.
Franklin added that his defense would need to prepare for three quarterbacks after the Tigers switched starters at Ole Miss, replacing Kiehl Frazier with Clint Moseley. Vanderbilt also expects to see a good bit of freshman Jonathan Wallace running out of the Wildcat formation.
“I don’t think it really causes too much of an issue,” Franklin said. “All of them are very, very similar. We just have to be ready to defend them.”
Homecoming: Vanderbilt’s homecoming game with Massachusetts will start at 6 p.m. on Oct. 27 and be televised on Fox Sports Tennessee.