Jordan Rodgers was far from perfect in his first NCAA start, but he played well enough to lead Vanderbilt to a dominant 44-21 win over Army Saturday night.
Rodgers completed just 10 of his 27 pass attempts, but his 186 yards were the most the Commodores have gained through the air all season. He continued to spark the team with his mobility, rushing for 96 yards and a touchdown on a combination of designed draws and quarterback scrambles. Whether or not he can be effective against a high caliber defense that has had ample time to prepare for Rodgers's skillset has yet to be seen, but his proficiency Saturday should earn him the start next week against Arkansas.
The Commodores pulled away in the second quarter and rode out the win with a run-dominated second half. Though the Black Knights made things interesting with a 15-0 spurt early in the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt was able to respond with a Zac Stacy touchdown run to shut the door on an Army comeback. In a game that could have huge implications in this team's bowl eligibility, Vandy took care of business while getting some of the improvements that could lead to a big upset win in November.
Rodgers's ascent may signal a changing of the guard at wide receiver. Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause were both primed for breakout years after strong freshman campaigns. However, it was a pair of players in the midst of the first years at wideout who led this team's passing attack. Chris Boyd and Wesley Tate were Rodgers's primary options through the air, combining for seven of the team's 10 receptions and 128 receiving yards. Both players give the Commodores a big target that can stretch the field as well as handle passes between the hashmarks.
Defensively, the team looked solid in stopping Army's vaunted triple-option running attack. Chris Marve responded to the Black Knights' offensive pressure by recording 11 tackles, one sack, and a forced fumble. The defensive line, playing without an injured Tim Fugger, held strong against the rush as well, limiting Army to over 90 yards fewer than their season average.
Good/Bad analysis and the PiBB ICE Player of the Week Award are after the jump...
- Zac Stacy against anyone other than South Carolina and Alabama. As Vandy Dan pointed out, Stacy has rushed for 464 yards on 49 carries against Elon, Army, Ole Miss, and Georgia. That's a stout 9.5 yards per carry. Against USC and 'Bama, he's sprung for just 22 yards on 11 carries. That's a considerably less stout two yards per carry. The difference between the two groups is apparent - South Carolina and Alabama have elite defenses - but Vanderbilt has more games that fit into the former category than the latter. Expect Stacy to make a legitimate run at a 1,000 yard season if he can stay healthy. He'd be the first Commodore to break that barrier since Jermaine Johnson back in 1995.
- The offensive line continues to gel. The Vanderbilt line continued their development from awfulness this week, even without suspended center Logan Stewart for much of the game. The team cleared holes for Stacy and Rodgers all game and gave the redshirt junior QB the time he needed to let plays develop downfield. In their last three games, the Commodores have allowed just one sack - and that was on a botched hail mary play.
- The ascension of Chris Boyd. Boyd, a redshirt freshman, has the tools to become an All-SEC receiver. His combination of size (6'4", 203 lbs) and speed (4.4 or 4.5 40-yard dash speed, depending on who you ask) make him a dangerous downfield threat for the 'Dores. He showed that off Saturday night, hauling in catches of 43 and 29 yards while earning eight targets from Jordan Rodgers. Boyd and Rodgers clearly have a rapport, and this could lead to Boyd's promotion to number one receiver for the black and gold.
- Tim Fugger's injury. Fugger has been the most disruptive member of Vanderbilt's defensive line in 2011. The undersized senior has been a menace in the backfield, using his speed and tenacity to get to quarterback and record eight tackles for loss on the season. He left the game in the first half with an injury and became a staple of ESPNU's telecast as he fumed on the sideline. He also missed time against Alabama and was held out of practices before the Georgia game, and it's becoming clear that he's dealing with a string of nagging injuries at this point. Hopefully he'll recover soon - the 'Dores need him to prop up a defensive line that relies more on depth than pure talent.
- 4th and 17 at the Army 36. After a holding penalty drove the team out of field goal range but not into punting range, the Commodores rolled the dice on 4th and 17 while leading 37-14 in the fourth quarter. Granted, part of the spirit of the play calling was to avoid running up the score with a long FG attempt, but the team's fourth-down play could not have turned out much worse than it did. Rodgers's pass was picked off 10 yards shy of the first down marker and returned 70 yards for an Army touchdown. This made the contest a two-possession game and made plenty of Vandy fans nervous until Stacy's touchdown response.
- The attendance. Vanderbilt Stadium looked to be about 75 percent full at best, leading for some embarrassing crowd shots for the team's Homecoming game. I understand that the team was in the tail end of a three-game losing streak, but the fact that most fans stayed home rather than come out to see what Jordan Rodgers was capable of after the UGA comeback is disappointing.
The PiBB ICE Player of the Week: Zac Stacy
Stacy takes home his third PIPOTW award with a career-best day on the ground. He ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns, all personal bests, in the win. In his three award-winning performances, Stacy has run for 464 yards and five touchdowns while throwing for another. He's stood out as this team's most valuable player through the first seven games of the season and has a legitimate shot at setting the Vanderbilt single-season rushing record (1,103 yards, set by Corey Harris in 1991). If he can top the 1,000 yard plateau, he'd be only the fourth tailback in history to reach that milestone.