Vandy gets test at South Carolina

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Vanderbilt is sticking to James Franklin's message: This week's game against No. 12 South Carolina is no different than the season opener against Elon.

While everyone is saying it, no one outside the team is buying it. This week the training wheels are coming off for the surging Commodores and their new coach.

Vanderbilt is receiving votes in The Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time since the 2009 preseason, but its 3-0 start has been at home. Now the Commodores face their biggest challenge yet Saturday night at South Carolina.

Franklin and his Commodores are downplaying the matchup.

"This is just the next game," said center Wesley Johnson, named the SEC offensive lineman of the week on Monday. "We can't treat one game more important than any other. South Carolina is going to be just as important as Elon."

The closest Franklin came Monday to acknowledging the game might be special was revealing his plan to crank up the noise even louder in practice this week. He's scavenging up as many speakers around campus as possible and playing South Carolina stadium fixtures like the gamecock crow.

Franklin said going on the road will create some issues for his Commodores (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference).

"That's probably the one thing I'm going to work on and pay attention to. We're going to do a lot of things in practice to make our guys feel as at home as possible," he said. "We're going to have the South Carolina fight song playing at practice extra loud. We're going to have crowd noise going on at practice as loud as we possibly can."

"We're going to do as much as we possibly can to prepare to be on the road in a hostile environment."

Life is good for the Commodores right now after they routed Mississippi 30-7 to win their SEC opener. Franklin is Vanderbilt's first coach to start 3-0 since World War II, and that was a coach who filled in for only one season in 1943.

Vanderbilt has been winning with defense.

Trey Wilson was named the SEC defensive player of the week Monday after he picked off two passes against Ole Miss, returning one 52 yards for a touchdown Wilson leads the SEC with three interceptions and is second nationally.

But the impressive statistics don't end there:

- The Commodores lead the SEC in turnover margin at plus-six and have picked off 10 passes, one more than all of last season. Three of those have been returned for TDs, the most in a single season in school history.

- Vanderbilt leads the conference with eight sacks.

- The Commodores rank fifth nationally in pass efficiency defense and 10th in total defense, giving up 250 yards per game.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is impressed.

"I'll tell you what they're doing, they're fundamentally sound," Spurrier said. "They play good defense and they look as good as any defense in the nation right now - and that's Vanderbilt I'm talking about."

The mentality stems from coaches telling defenders not to simply play defense when the ball is in the air.

"Coach teaches us to attack the ball every chance we get," Wilson said. "We're not defensive backs when that ball is in the air. If it's thrown to you, go get the ball."

This is unusual territory for Vanderbilt, where wins are rare.

The Commodores' 7-6 mark in 2008 is the program's lone winning record since 1982. The early success has brought lots of national attention and stories, which Franklin welcomes.

"The people that are jumping on the bandwagon, we're excited to have them and there's a lot of room on the bus for them," Franklin said.

The Commodores will be the underdogs for the first time this season at South Carolina (3-0, 1-0 SEC), but Franklin said he doesn't pay attention to odds.

"Our guys don't see themselves as an underdog. They haven't this year, and that's really our focus," Franklin said.

No matter if they're playing the Gamecocks or the Phoenix.

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AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in South Carolina contributed to this report.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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