If Vanderbilt wants to make it to its first bowl game since the 2008 season, it will need to get more out of its offense.
Coach James Franklin knows that, so he decided to make a change at the quarterback position. Wednesday, Franklin announced that junior Jordan Rodgers would get the start against Army over longtime senior Larry Smith.
"Jordan will start the game," Franklin said. "He’s having a good week of practice and we thought he made some really good plays on Saturday. There are some things that we’ve got to get cleaned up, but they’re very correctable things."
This couldn't have been an easy decision for Franklin, but it was the right one. Smith began his career with the hero tag attached to his name after guiding the Commodores to their first postseason win in 53 yards in his first-career start. Since then, it's been a rocky journey for Smith. He struggled through back-to-back 2-10 seasons with the Commodores. During that span his completion percentage has dipped below 50 percent and he threw 12 interceptions to 10 touchdowns.
When Franklin arrived, he said there would be an open competition at quarterback, but with Rodgers limited during the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery, Smith held on to his starting spot.
Rodgers relieved Smith against Alabama when Smith went down with an ankle injury and replaced him again a week later against Georgia. The offense played much better with Rodgers in the game as he guided the Commodores to three touchdown drives in the second half. While his numbers weren't great (45 yards passing, 80 yards rushing), he came close to leading the Commodores on a game-winning drive at the end of the game.
"It was a combination of some of the playmaking he brought," Franklin said of starting Rodgers. "I thought how he fought, how he competed and how he broke tackles, he really gave us some momentum plays when we needed it. I think we kind of fed off that, so we’ll keep going with it and see what happens."
Rodgers, who is the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, should give Vanderbilt a much-needed jolt to its offense. He can make plays with his feet and has a very strong throwing arm. With more reps this week, he should be better prepared to play a full game as the Commodores' starter. Keeping a quarterback in who is a threat to run and pass should make it easy for the offensive line to adjust to Rodgers in the game.
His first test as a starter comes against an Army team that is giving up 227 passing yards per game. The Commodores currently average just 133 passing yards a game and have five touchdowns through the air.