NASHVILLE -- Having two open dates in a season is pretty new to Vanderbilt coach James Franklin. He did his best to make sure the time off helped his Commodores rest up for a stretch run to wrap up the season.
Franklin rested as many of his starters and key contributors as possible, limiting them to individual drills and walk-throughs last week before giving them some days off after a 56-24 loss Oct. 26 at Texas A&M.
"Emotionally and physically, we're going into this game as a coaching staff and as players as refreshed as we've been in a long time," Franklin said Monday.
Now the Commodores can only hope they do as well coming off this break as they did their first open date. The Commodores (4-4, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) upset Georgia 31-27 after their last open date, and now they are preparing for Saturday's trip to Florida (4-4, 3-3) needing to repeat their November performance of last year to match their 8-4 record in 2012.
Vanderbilt went undefeated last November, beating Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Wake Forest to go 4-0 for the month for the first time since 1982. That helped the Commodores reach the Music City Bowl where a win made them 9-4 for the program's best record since 1915.
But Vandy played Ole Miss in the season opener Aug. 31, and the Commodores kick off November against Florida having lost 22 straight to the Gators. Franklin said the offensive linemen joined position coach Herb Hand for a meal and watched the Gators during their 23-20 loss to Georgia last weekend in what Franklin called an emotional rivalry.
"So I think that's an advantage for us as well," Franklin said.
The open date helped the Commodores heal up a bit as well. Linebacker Chase Garnham is back on the depth chart as a backup for the first time since being injured in the season opener. Franklin said Garnham is expected to play, though starting isn't realistic with starters on the field usually 60 plays.
The Commodores also will be starting Patton Robinette at quarterback for a second straight road game. Robinette was 15 of 28 for 216 yards and two interceptions, but the redshirt freshman did throw for a touchdown and run for another score. Franklin said he knows his quarterback is excited about now starting in the Swamp and showing signs the game is slowing down for him.
"Some guys can play at an extremely high level right from the beginning," Franklin said. "For him I'm not sure when it'll happen. He has shown signs of it in practice as well as a few times in the games.
"If you surround someone with a good cast it makes it a lot easier on those young guys."
The depth chart lists true freshman Johnny McCrary as the backup quarterback. Franklin said they're not opposed to using McCrary if necessary. Vanderbilt coaches would prefer to keep McCrary redshirted this season. Senior Austyn Carta-Samuels, who hurt his left leg in the win over Georgia, might have a chance to back up Robinette by week's end.
"As the week goes on, we will see where Austyn fits in," Franklin said. "We hope that by the end of the week he can be our number two guy."
Both Vanderbilt and Florida go into this game with the same overall record, but defensive end Walker May said none of that matters.
"Only this week matters, and we are going to take advantage of what we can do this week during practice," May said. "Practice hard Tuesday through Friday, and Saturday will take care of itself."