NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Vanderbilt Commodores aren't picky about when they got a bye. They're just glad they got one this season, and the timing couldn't have been better.
The Commodores (1-2) got to spend the past week celebrating their 28-14 victory at Mississippi on Sept. 18, a win that ended a 10-game skid in the Southeastern Conference that stretched back to 2008. Robbie Caldwell appreciated the time to heal up almost as much as his first career victory, making him the first Vanderbilt coach since 1975 to win his road debut.
"Byes for us are more important than most people because the numbers," Caldwell said Monday. "We don't have a lot of numbers so our guys have to practice against each other. It is more like the pro aspect of it. It is a lot of wear and tear on your body."
The Commodores played 12 games in as many weeks last year, which included eight straight losses to end the season. It was the second time in four years that the Commodores didn't receive a bye as they battled injuries during a 2-10 campaign.
Now they face the challenge of keeping momentum from a Southeastern Conference victory rolling as they look for consecutive wins for the first time in two years. The Commodores visit Connecticut (2-2) on Saturday.
"We're excited," Caldwell said. "I mean we got no reason not to be. We just had a conference win on the road, which is very hard to do in this league."
Caldwell had the Commodores working on different offensive strategies. Vanderbilt is last in the SEC in scoring offense, averaging just 17.3 points and 289 yards a game.
The defense, depleted due to injuries, focused on stopping the run better. That has been a problem so far as the Commodores have allowed a league-worst 206 yards rushing a game. But Caldwell said he was impressed with his unit's play against Mississippi.
"We were outsized," Caldwell said. "But we were able to play with our pads down, jam it up in there and stop them in short yardage (situations), which is huge play for us."
Vanderbilt should be a little healthier too with the time off.
Caldwell said running back Warren Norman, last year's SEC Freshman of the Year, looked fresher during practice Sunday. Norman had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Aug. 25 but has played in all three games, including running for 111 yards against Mississippi.
He leads the team with 225 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Zac Stacy, who has also been trying to recover from his own knee injury, has rushed for 134 yards and two TDs.
"Those two have been playing well throughout the injuries," quarterback Larry Smith said. "Having them back at 100 percent will be huge for us."
Caldwell also is hopeful about the return of tight end Brandon Barden (lower foot) and defensive back Jamie Graham (groin). But he said defensive tackles T.J. Greenstone (ankle) and Adam Smotherman (knee) are questionable, which could mean the rest of the Commodores' defensive line might have its work cut out for them against the Big East's leading rusher.
Connecticut's Jordan Todman has rushed for 448 yards in just three games, and he leads the Big East with a 149.3-yard average, fifth best in the nation. But Todman injured his arm against Temple two weeks ago, did not play against Buffalo on Saturday and it is unknown if he will play against Vanderbilt.
If Todman can't start, the Huskies will feature Robbie Frey and D.J. Shoemate at the Commodores.
"They don't make any bones about it, 'We're going to come at you with the power O,'" Caldwell said of UConn's offense. "They are going to slam at you. You better bring your lunch pail."