- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Last season, Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers was buried in inconsistency most of the time. This time around, he's been steady, but not too exciting.
That will change Saturday when Tennessee limps into Nashville with the SEC's last-place defense.
Rodgers, who is averaging 217.4 passing yards per game and has thrown nine touchdowns to three interceptions this season, will look more like his older brother, Aaron, against the Vols' struggling defense.
Rodgers hasn't been asked to do a lot this season, but the Commodores (6-4, 4-3) have a chance to get closer to eight regular-season wins and bounce the Vols from a shot at postseason play, and he can really hurt Tennessee's defense with his arm and his legs. Remember, he's quite the athlete, so he'll be able to extend some plays when the Vols bring pressure.
Tennessee (4-6, 0-6) is last in the SEC in total defense (480.2 yards per game) and scoring defense (37), and is 13th in rushing defense (190.5) and passing defense (289.7). Rodgers will take full advantage of that with his excellent receiving targets in Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, who have combined to catch 110 passes for 1,689 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
With running back Zac Stacy banged up, more will be put on Rodgers' plate this weekend, and he won't shy away from the added responsibility. He's grown so much this season that he won't be fazed at all. Tennessee's defense also will allow him the time and space to get very comfortable inside Vanderbilt Stadium.
If he wants to, Rodgers can rely on his arm all day, but there are plays to be made with his feet, and he'll do it Saturday. He has only rushed for 62 net yards this season, but if he needs to scamper off to make plays this weekend, he will. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel and Missouri's James Franklin rushed for 81 and 43 yards, respectively, against Tennessee's defense this year.
Rodgers will come out of his shell Saturday in a game that means so much to both sides. The Vols are a loss away from not making it to a bowl game in back-to-back seasons, while the Commodores are looking for eight regular-season wins (they play Wake Forest Nov. 24). They'd also love nothing more than to spoil the Vols' postseason chances.
With a lot of help from Rodgers, the Commodores will do just that, and maybe coach James Franklin will carry him off the field instead of Mr. Commodore.
2dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
3dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney