By Teresa M. Walker
The Vanderbilt football program has come a long way in a short time.
There was a time not long ago that the Commodores used to count moral victories after playing well in close losses. Now they get downright testy over how they're playing when they win.
Vanderbilt struggled to put away winless Massachusetts last weekend 24-7 before sealing the win with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The Commodores also beat Austin Peay 38-3 earlier this month with 35 points in the second quarter covering up a slow start by the offense.
Coach James Franklin said Monday the positive is expectations have changed for the Commodores.
"People are not just happy with wins anymore," Franklin said. "They have to be wins in a convincing matter or a certain style of game. I will take as many as what people call 'ugly wins' as we can get. If there is a way to possibly get 15 ugly wins this year I would love it. I don't know if that is possible but I'd love them."
The Commodores can blame themselves for higher expectations after going 9-4 last season, the best record since 1915.
Asked Monday where the criticism has been coming from, Franklin said there was a "tone" in questions after the win at UMass. He also said coaches discussed during the game that the Commodores were not playing as cleanly as they want.
"We're going to go back and watch the tape and say there are areas we have to improve," Franklin said. "I don't think there is any doubt about that. But each week I'm going to come in here and tell the truth to my team and tell the truth to (the media). I think there are areas we did get better last week. I just think you'd like for it to have a little faster pace."
Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels pointed out they only punted once in nine possessions when asked about the offense in the first quarter. That doesn't include an interception to end the first drive, turning it over on downs on the second or the fumble that ended the fourth.
"You just have to minimize the critical mistakes, which were mainly on my shoulders," Carta-Samuels said.
Vanderbilt (2-2) hosts Alabama-Birmingham (1-2) on Saturday night, a final chance at a nonconference tuneup before diving back into the meat of the SEC schedule that features visits from Missouri and No. 9 Georgia before trips to No. 10 Texas A&M and 20th-ranked Florida.
The Commodores rank 12th in the SEC in total offense and 77th nationally averaging 385.5 yards per game. They are 13th in the league in rushing offense, 82nd nationally, using three running backs. But sophomore Brian Kimbrow posted his frustration on Twitter on Sunday, and the running back wasn't on the depth chart Monday.
Franklin said only that he reads every tweet by his players and that the situation was being handled internally.
Center Joe Townsend said the Commodores have lost a bit of their juice possibly from the outside distractions. Receiver Chris Boyd was dismissed from the team a week ago after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for his role helping cover up an incident in June where four former players are charged with raping an unconscious student in a dormitory on campus.
"We all just got to start having fun," Townsend said. "You make plays, you have fun. That's what we're going to do ... We've got all kinds of experience on the field. I'm really looking forward to getting back out there and having fun."