Weekend scrimmage offers highlights

Vanderbilt took advantage of beautiful early April weather and conducted its eighth session and second scrimmage of spring practice inside Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday morning, two weeks and a day before the team's Black & Gold Spring Game on April 17th.

Head coach James Franklin patrolled all parts of the field as the rest of the coaching staff directed the offense and defense from separate sidelines, shuffling first-team and second-team matchups after each drive. A full officiating crew was once again on hand to observe the practice and call penalties as they occurred. Despite several big plays toward the end of the session, Franklin was disappointed with the energy his team showed at multiple points of the day.

"There always comes a point during the spring, especially on the offense, where you just kind of hit the wall," said Franklin. "Usually it coexists with the day you start blitzing more, which is what happened."

Redshirt junior defensive end Johnell Thomas was a presence up front and had a role in several big plays, including a safety the defense forced during a drive that started at the 5-yard line early on in practice. Thomas also recovered a fumbled snap after a shaky exchange under center.

The offense bounced back with a standout performance during the team's goal line session, scoring on three consecutive plays from scrimmage. Running backs Zac Stacy and Wesley Tate each broke through holes that opened up on the right side of the line for scores.

The play of the day on either side of the ball became a valuable teaching moment for Franklin. Cornerback Casey Hayward picked off a throw by Larry Smith and was grabbed by his receiver as he turned up the field with the ball. Before he could be brought down, Hayward flipped the ball laterally to trailing safety Kenny Ladler, who took the pitch all the way back for a touchdown.

If the description of the play recalls the highlight reel of a certain high-profile NFL defense, it is not by coincidence, courtesy of Defensive Coordinator and Safeties Coach Bob Shoop.

"Coach Shoop, when he first got here, he was talking about the Ravens defense and Ed Reed and all the plays he makes," said Hayward. "As soon as I picked it, that was the first thing I thought about, Coach Shoop, and I just pitched it and Kenny happened to be there."

But Ladler was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after doing a flip into the end zone during his return, and the 15-yard penalty was assessed at the start of the next offensive drive. Later in that drive, sophomore wide receiver Jordan Matthews out-jumped two defenders for a touchdown catch in the left corner of the end zone, and Franklin wasted little time reminding the defense of the penalty that gave the offense such advantageous field position.

"To me, that's what the fans want to see around here," Franklin said of the interception. "That's what our administration wants to see, that's what our coaches want to see. We want to be an exciting football team in that we're going to take some educated risks and we're going to go out and make big plays. [Hayward's interception] was a perfect example of that. Now we know we can't have the back end of it with the lack of discipline."

Matthews caught two touchdown passes on the afternoon, one each from quarterbacks Larry Smith and Charlie Goro.

The Commodores head back out to practice on Tuesday night.

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