NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - James Franklin is in spin mode, trying to manage the pain and frustration of an 0-2 start for the Vanderbilt Commodores — players and fans expected much more after the coach's debut season.
The Commodores at least felt good about themselves despite coming up short in a 17-13 loss to then-No. 9 South Carolina in the opener. But then they went to Northwestern on Saturday night as a road favorite and lost a fourth-quarter lead for a second straight game in losing 24-13.
"We learned valuable lessons, and we are getting better," Franklin said. "I know there's a frustration with our fans from years, and then the light started shining and there was hope. All that is still there. You know one game, one moment is not going to define who and what we're going to be as a program."
The Commodores should pick up a win Saturday. They host Presbyterian (1-1) of the Football Championship Series and have won nine straight games against FCS-level opponents.
What Franklin didn't say is whether or not he will make a change at quarterback against Presbyterian. He hinted he might after the Northwestern loss, but Franklin said Monday no starting changes had been made "at this point." He also said any starter could be changed depending on how he practices each day.
Franklin switched to Jordan Rodgers for the final seven games last season, and Rodgers earned the job with his work through the offseason and in August.
Against Northwestern, Rodgers was 17 of 33 for 217 yards. The younger brother of NFL Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers led Vandy rushing 15 times for 51 yards, but he also was stripped of the ball at the end of an 8-yard run on a turnover at the Northwestern 11.
Franklin said Rodgers has been inconsistent but needs more help from his teammates. He noted Rodgers was sacked on one play where a receiver was wide-open for what would have been a touchdown if thrown the ball.
The coach also defended the play-calling as being aggressive with the problems coming from players making mistakes at the wrong time. That's why quarterbacks and receivers now are watching film together, while tight ends and offensive linemen will start off sessions together to make sure they understand what is needed on run plays and pass protections.
The defense also gave up 17 points in the fourth quarter to Northwestern after failing to protect a fourth-quarter lead against South Carolina in the opener. Safety Kenny Ladler was hurt in that quarter. Franklin declined to give an update Monday, but Ladler isn't expected to play Saturday.
"If they don't score, they don't win," senior defensive end Johnell Thomas said. "It dinged us a little bit. But ... you grow from it, you learn from it."
Franklin also noted Vanderbilt's challenging start against a pair of teams from Bowl Championship Series conferences that also played in bowl games last season. The Commodores opened 3-0 a year ago against Elon, Connecticut and Mississippi. Franklin said his Commodores might have lost a bit of their motivation of trying to prove they can win.
The Commodores also are looking for new leaders to step up, especially on defense where linebacker Chris Marve graduated.
"It can't always come from the coaches," Franklin said.
Junior left tackle Wesley Johnson said he made some mistakes not executing his blocks. He also thinks they got a bit complacent and now are paying attention to every detail.
"We didn't handle, I guess, what little success we had last year, we didn't handle it very well because obviously we weren't very used to it," Johnson said. "But now we talked about it (Sunday). We're coming back. We're going to start playing with that edge, that chip on our shoulder. We're going to fight hard."
They better because the schedule toughens considerably. The Commodores visit No. 7 Georgia and Missouri before hosting No. 18 Florida and Auburn. Vanderbilt has never gone to consecutive bowl games and didn't earn a bowl berth after starting 0-2.
"We've been 0-2, so we need a win right now," cornerback Andre Hal said. "Just stay positive and get this win, and can't wait for this weekend."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)