NASHVILLE, Tenn. — James Franklin finally has seen the value of a true home-field advantage playing on the road in the Southeastern Conference. Now Vanderbilt's new coach wants to see that Saturday night in the Commodores' own stadium when Georgia visits.
"We need the same type of support, that 12th member of our team, which can be our fans and really be critical on third down with the opposing offense trying to communicate and run their offense. I'd like to really be able to create a home-field advantage for our players as well," Franklin said.
Franklin and his Commodores (3-2, 1-2) certainly have done their share to create excitement at home where they won their first three games. Vanderbilt still had tickets available Thursday night at the SEC's smallest stadium, and senior tight end Brandon Barden has been around long enough he won't be surprised if the stadium isn't filled up with Vandy black and gold.
"But we're all looking forward to being at home," Barden said. "Being on the road is exciting, but we need the home games to come back with your own crowd to get pumped back up. And I feel our morale is pretty high. Our confidence isn't hurt."
The Commodores lost 21-3 at then-No. 12 South Carolina, then were shut out 34-0 at No. 2 Alabama last week. On the plus side, Vandy already has one more win than in either of the past two seasons along with a reshuffled offensive line didn't give up a sack to Alabama and a defense leading the nation with 14 interceptions.
Georgia coach Mark Richt just picked up his 100th career victory with the Bulldogs, 20-12 over Tennessee last weekend. Now he's heading back to Tennessee for a second straight game with his Bulldogs (4-2, 3-1) having won four straight. He joked that he has had lots of wonderful memories at Vanderbilt Stadium.
"I can't tell you how many times we've been at halftime just wondering what's going on," Richt said. "They're an outstanding team, a team we have a lot of respect for. We certainly have a lot of respect for coach Franklin and his team, his coaching staff, and what they're doing."
The Bulldogs have won four straight and 15 of the last 16 in this series, but the games rarely are ever easy because the state of Georgia is a fertile recruiting area for Vanderbilt. The Commodores have 19 players currently from Georgia on the roster led by running back Zac Stacy and safety Kenny Ladler with possibly eight of them starting Saturday night.
"Vanderbilt is a hard-nosed team that will hit you in the mouth on every play if you aren't expecting it," Georgia linebacker Chase Vasser said.
"We have to make sure that we are ready to play. The game is at their place, and they have had a lot of success at home this year. We have to make sure to remember that they are not the teams from the past. They have improved a lot, have won some games and will have a lot of momentum going into the game this weekend. We have to be ready to play."
Richt's Bulldogs have been playing pretty well too since losing the first two games to start the season. Georgia has outscored opponents 103-35 in the winning streak and has allowed two offensive touchdowns in that time. On offense, freshman Isaiah Crowell has teamed with quarterback Aaron Murray to help the Bulldogs average 170 yards rushing per game.
"Every back in the SEC is a challenge," Vanderbilt linebacker Archibald Barnes said.
This could be a defensive showdown. Vanderbilt ranks fifth in the SEC and 23rd nationally giving up just 19.4 points a game, just behind Georgia (19.2 points). The Commodores lead the SEC and rank sixth nationally in red zone efficiency defense at 64 percent. They also allow 108.2 yards rushing per game, 29th in the country.
Cornerback Casey Heyward has picked off four passes for Vanderbilt, while Bacarri Rambo has four interceptions himself for Georgia.
Franklin could have a new starter at quarterback if Larry Smith isn't able to play after hurting his left ankle at Alabama. Jordan Rodgers replaced Smith and took a majority of the work in practice Wednesday. But Franklin has said he will stick with Smith if he's healthy enough to play.
Right tackle Kyle Fischer said they'll be ready to protect whoever starts.
"We're going to protect them, and they're going to lead us to victory," Fischer said.