Oct. 10, 2011
For the first time this season, the starting quarterback position is up in the air heading into Saturday's game against Georgia (6 p.m. CT, FS South). Incumbent Larry Smith exited Saturday's game at Alabama due to injury and was replaced by junior Jordan Rodgers.
With just one day of practice to see Smith after his injury, Head Coach James Franklin did not commit to either quarterback during his weekly press conference Monday afternoon.
"We are going to determine that this week and have a competition and kind of see," Franklin said.
Rodgers completed 11-of-18 passes for 104 yards and had two interceptions against Alabama. Meanwhile, Smith was 4-of-6 for 45 yards in less than one quarter of play.
Asked to assess Rodgers' performance against Alabama, Franklin said it was a tail of two halves.
"I thought Jordan played extremely well in the first half," Franklin remarked. "I don't think he played as well as he would have liked to have played or we would have liked in the second half."
Franklin named Smith as the starting quarterback before preseason practice began, and he has remained the starter each week despite Rodgers seeing time each game either by design or due to an injury.
In five games, Smith has completed 58.1% of his passes for 457 yards and three touchdowns. Rodgers has completed 62.5% of his passes for 189 yards, but has attempted 61 fewer passes than Smith.
No matter who earns the start, senior guard Kyle Fischer is confident both players can be successful.
"We know the coaches have faith in Larry or Jordan and we have faith in whoever the coaches put in there," Fischer said. "We trust anybody that plays is going to put us in the situation to win the game. Whoever they put back there, we are going to protect them and help them and they are going to lead us to victory."
If it has seemed like it's been a month between home games, it's because it has. Vanderbilt's last home game came Sept. 17 against Ole Miss.
Vanderbilt is 3-0 at home and is looking for its first 4-0 start at home since 1982 when the Commodores went 6-0 at home.
The Commodores have scored all but three of its points at home this season.
"We are all looking forward to being back home," senior tight end Brandon Barden said. "Being on the road is always exciting, but you need those home games to be in front of your crowd to get you pumped up. I feel like our morale is still pretty high. Our confidence isn't hurt."
Offensive Line Makes Noticeable Improvement
After allowing 15 sacks in its previous three games, Vanderbilt's offensive line did not allow a sack against Alabama on Saturday.
Among the things Franklin credited for the improvement was the team's offensive scheme of distributing the ball more quickly and also the personnel changes made during the bye week.
The team moved Wesley Johnson from center back to left tackle with Logan Stewart - a starter at center last year - returning after missing preseason camp due to mononucleosis.
The return of Stewart also enabled the coaching staff to move Ryan Seymour to guard from the left tackle position he occupied while Johnson played center.
"Ryan Seymour came into my office a week ago and said, 'Coach, whatever we need to do. If you need to move me to guard, I'm more than willing to do whatever I've got to do to help the team.'"
Franklin also said that the team had an open competition for the starting right guard position during practice last week, and Mylon Brown held onto the starting spot.
"We are going to continue to create as completive of an environment as we possibly can at that position," Franklin said.
After missing two games due to injury, tight end Brandon Barden returned to the field Saturday against Alabama. He caught two passes for 34 yards against the Tide, and said he was healthy again.
"It was great to get back out on the field," Barden said. "It was rough sitting out for those games. It was the first time I've dealt with an injury like that in the four years I've been here."
Barden got back onto the practice field and started running the Sunday before the Alabama game. Despite the time away, he was in better shape than he thought he would be come Saturday.
"I lasted more plays than I thought I would," Barden said. "My conditioning is definitely going to be better this week."
Barnes Steps Up
One of the strengths of the team this year has been the play of Vanderbilt's linebackers. However, after losing starting linebacker Tristan Strong for the season at South Carolina, questions were raised regarding the team's depth at the position.
Enter Archibald Barnes.
The redshirt junior replaced Strong in the starting lineup Saturday and collected a career-high eight tackles.
"I thought I played physical," Barnes said. "I had a good time out there. The crowd really got me amped up and going. I knew my guys were believing in me and trusting in me to get the job done the way Tristan had been doing. I felt like I stepped up and I feel like I can still do better."
Learning from Two Losses
Although the Commodores lost its last two games, Franklin believes not all was lost in those games.
"I see the team growing," Franklin noted. "I see the team learning from those experiences, and to me that is the most important thing for the program in developing those kids."
You can follow me on Twitter @SchulzRyan