Jordan Rodgers, this is your team now.
Head Coach James Franklin officially declared Rodgers as his starting quarterback eight weeks into the Commodores' season, making a decision many fans would argue is long overdue. Rodgers will replace the embattled Larry Smith, a redshirt senior who has started all six of Vanderbilt's games in 2011 but finished only one of them. The swap comes after Rodgers led Vanderbilt on three second-half scoring drives to nearly upend Georgia last weekend. The touchdowns were a stark turnaround from the team's last two SEC games, where they were outscored 56-3.
Rodgers's presence behind center made him the clear choice against Army despite posting a dismal 4-19 passing line against the 'Dawgs. Last week, he was able to use his legs to keep drive alive and showed more poise in the pocket than Smith had before him. The redshirt junior also showed a penchant for coming up big on third downs in the second half. With Rodgers at the helm, the team was 5-7 in third or fourth down situations, with four of the conversions coming as a result of a Rodgers pass or run.
His ability to keep drives alive brought the 'Dores back from the dead against Georgia, and Franklin and his crew are hoping he can continue that momentum into this week's homecoming game against Army. With out of conference play winding down, this could be the best opportunity Rodgers has to make his mark on the team. However, that doesn't mean that the Black Knights will be a pushover by any means.
Army, who beat the Commodores in West Point two years ago, is only 2-4 on the season but they're a perfect 1-1 against BCS programs so far after beating Northwestern in week three. Their losses to San Diego State and Miami (OH) came in one-possession games. While they don't have much of a passing game to speak of - they've gained only 58 yards per game in the air, less than half of Vandy's tragic 132 ypg - their triple-option attack had given them the #1 ranked running attack in the NCAA. After six games, they're averaging over 360 rushing yards per game.
Can Vanderbilt stop Army's running attack and give Jordan Rodgers a win in his first NCAA start? We've got our predictions for you, after the jump...
Train Island - Army isn't the pushover that they were five years ago, and the fact that their run-heavy offense will basically remove Vanderbilt's biggest strength (their secondary) from the game should help make this game a competitive affair. Raymond Maples, Trent Steelman, and Malcolm Brown have created a formidable triple-option attack in the Black Knight backfield, and all are capable of ripping off big runs against a solid Vandy defensive front. In fact, of the seven Army backs that have 20 carries or more, none average fewer than 4.2 yards per carry.
Let's get back to that Vandy front, though. The Commodores held Georgia to 117 yards on 34 carries last week when the 'Dawgs had been averaging 170 per game. They held Marcus Lattimore to 77 yards on 20 carries and dealt a blow to his Heisman candidacy. In all, this team has held opponents to approximately 110 yards per game on the ground. If you ranked this figure against all Division I-A teams, it would be 103rd overall, right between Kentucky and Louisville.
So, the good news is that Vanderbilt has been doing an entirely underrated job against the run. The bad news is that they haven't been tested by a true option offense under James Franklin. How the team responds will dictate how tough an opponent Army turns out to be.
Offensively, Jordan Rodgers will benefit from not having to deal with Georgia's solid secondary. The Black Knights have allowed opponents to complete over 60 percent of their passes and are giving up more than 225 yards per game in the air. Northwestern's tandem of backup quarterbacks (filling in for Dan Persa) managed to go 17-30 for 194 yards and two touchdowns against them in a 14-21 loss back in September. Rodgers should be able to hit similar numbers against Army this weekend.
If he does, and Zac Stacy and Jerron Seymour continue to run the ball effectively, the Commodores can pull this one out. Rodgers proved that he can keep defenses on their toes thanks to his scrambling ability, but the Black Knights will be more prepared for his game than Georgia was a week before. Can he step up and lead this team to a homecoming victory? I think so.
TI's Pick: Vanderbilt 27, Army 17
TI's SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Jacksonville State over Kentucky. The Gamecocks beat Ole Miss last year, and last year's Ole Miss was somehow better than this year's awful UK squad. So far, Kentucky has proved that they can only beat directional midwest state universities (Central Michigan, Western Kentucky). Jacksonville State has a good chance to pull the upset, and a great chance to keep things embarrassingly close against the Wildcats.
SectFRow1Seat30: Opening line: Vandy -8.5. Current Line: Vandy -10. O/U: 46.5.
What the movement tells us: The nation is starting to believe.
Don't touch this game. I think we win. I have no idea if we win by 1 or 30. I want to believe in James Franklin and that the culture at Vandy has legitimately changed. To buy in to that, I need to see us light up Army. This is a classic situation where the VU of old lays a gold coated egg. If you must bet this game, bet the under. Either we shut them down completely or it's a low scoring nail biter.
§FR1S30's Pick: Supreme Naval Officers: 35 Black Knights: 0. OR Supreme Naval Officers: 14 Black Knights: 13.
KingJamesIV - My dad went to was Naval ROTC at Vanderbilt. After graduation, he shipped out to Vietnam. I respect the hell out of our troops, but if we're going down to one of their football programs, it had better be the one based in Annapolis.
I'm not going to analyze the game today. Instead I'm going to leave you with this quote from Mr. SEC's predictions for today:
Vandy - 10' vs. Army - I love Vandy because they're starting to remind me of Stallone in Rocky IV. They don't have all the fancy training stuff at their disposal like Drago or their SEC brethren. Outmanned and undersized in nearly every conference game, Vandy's simply going to have to win with more heart and a few timely haymakers to conquer. Convincing wins against UCONN and Ole Miss bowed a few brows, but the close loss and ensuing "altercation" against UGA was basically Vandy staging a press conference for the rest of the SEC to hear, "I'm coming for you." Could Vandy have the best coach in the East? Can the ‘Dores be a contender to win the East in 2012? Did I really just type those last sentences? Vandy wins and covers 31-17.
(h/t CharlesMorse over at VandySports.com [$])
KJIV's Pick: Vandy 35, Army 14
KJIV's SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Well, seeing as TI's already picked J-State over UK, and Mississippi is leading Arkansas at the half, I'm left with Auburn over LSU. I suppose it could happen, thanks to all those synthetic weed suspensions. I'd rather it didn't, for the sake of November 5's Alabama-LSU clash.