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Vanderbilt focusing on winless UMass football team

AMHERST — Just about every football coach from Pop Warner to the NFL subscribes to the “one game at a time” theory. There is no more frequently used cliche.

But Vanderbilt coach James Franklin takes it to another level.

At his Monday press conference, Franklin was asked about his team’s chance to move to .500 if it can beat the University of Massachusetts, Saturday at 7 p.m.

“The chance is to be 1-0 this week. I have no recollection of what our record was before this week,” Franklin said. “Saturday was awesome. I enjoyed that win. But when I wake up Sunday I have no recollection of what our record was the week before. The only game in our focus is UMass.”

On Wednesday’s SEC conference call, Franklin was asked about becoming bowl eligible.

“I’m not sure what you mean when you talk about bowl games,” Franklin said. “We’re playing this week, trying to beat UMass. If we get a win this week and we keep doing that, at the end of the year if they tell us about these things you describe as bowls, maybe we’ll go to one. But we’re just focused on winning this week.”

In case Franklin needs a refresher, three of his team’s four losses came against teams ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game — No. 9 South Carolina, No. 5 Georgia and No. 4 Florida. The Commodores also lost to Northwestern. They beat Presbyterian, Missouri and Auburn. They need three wins to be bowl eligible.

This is the start of a four-game series between the Minutemen and Commodores. Vanderbilt will visit Gillette Stadium next year.

“Their head coach, Charley Molnar, is a guy I don’t have a lot of background with. A lot of these coaches are in a tight-knit community. I don’t know him as well,” Franklin said. “Obviously him taking that job transitioning from I-AA to I-A is a tremendous challenge. He’s had a tremendous background in all the different places that he’s worked. I’m interested to get to know him better.”

Time & location: 7 p.m., Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.

Records: UMass (0-7, 0-4 Mid-American Conference). Vandy (3-4, 2-3 SEC)

Last week: The Minutemen fell to Bowling Green, 24-0; The Commodores beat Auburn, 17-13.

All-time series: First meeting

TV/Internet: NESN

Radio: WWEI-FM (105.5)

When UMass has the ball: The Minutemen will have their full complement of receivers available and healthy for the first time since Week 2, as wide receiver Alan Williams (suspension) and tight end Rob Blanchflower (injury) return to action.

“Both guys add an element to our offense that we haven’t had in a couple of weeks,” Molnar said. “We needed them both.”

They’ll need all hands on deck as Vanderbilt boasts the SEC’s No. 2 passing defense, allowing just 142.6 yards per game. Only No. 1 Alabama (two touchdowns) has allowed fewer passing TDs than the Commodores (three).

Vandy is sixth in both scoring defense (21.0 points per game) and total defense (331.7 yards allowed per game) in the SEC, a league noted for its defenses. Teams have been effective running the ball on the Commodores, who have allowed 189.1 rushing yards per game.

“Their skill players are going to be challenging,” Franklin said. “Running back Michael Cox is a big kid. He’s physical. Deion Walker the receiver and the tight end Rob Blanchflower are all playing well. Offensively, they’re a young, inexperienced group. They’re still trying to work through their system and find their identity, but they’re also playing better than their record might indicate.”

When Vanderbilt has the ball: Senior tailback Zac Stacy is third in the SEC and No. 38 in the nation in yards rushing per game at 95.4. His 668 yards this year made him Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rusher with 2,670 career yards.

Senior quarterback Jordan Rogers has completed 89-of-159 throws for 1,241 yards (206.8 per game), three touchdowns and two interceptions. Rogers is Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rogers’ younger brother.

Junior Jordan Matthews has been Jordan Rogers’ favorite target. His 46 catches are tied for most in the league, while his 663 yards are second. He’s caught all three of Rogers’ touchdown passes.

Senior linebacker Perry McIntyre has led the Minutemen defense. His 11.0 tackles per game is second in the nation.

“We’ve been very impressed with linebacker Perry McIntyre, who flies around,” Franklin said.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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