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Vanderbilt pasted FCS patsy Presbyterian on Saturday, but their 58-0 victory may have ultimately raised more questions than it answered.
The biggest concern, of course, is what to make of the Vanderbilt quarterback situation. Jordan Rodgers saw the field for only a few plays, all as a holder in field goal situations. Austyn Carta-Samuels looked solid in his place to lead the 'Dores to a blowout victory. Unfortunately, the redshirt junior also made a few innocuous-seeming mistakes that made little difference against the Blue Hose but would be exploited against the beasts of the SEC.
Head Coach James Franklin was uncommitted when it came to the post-game press conference. Carta-Samuels wasn't made available to the press, and Franklin himself refused to make a decision when it came down to who would be starting this week against Georgia.
"We'll see how this week goes. If after looking at the tape, if Austyn gives us a better chance to beat Georgia, then we'll make that decision," said Franklin. "Nothing is set in stone yet."
So it appears that we have a quarterback battle on our hands. The good news is that both candidates are capable passers who could lead an upset bid over the Bulldogs in Athens. The bad news is that neither one has shown much consistency in 2012. Rodgers looked average-to-awful in games against South Carolina and Northwestern. Carta-Samuels was considerably better in his lone Vanderbilt start, but that came against a AA bottom-dweller that had been snuffed out 59-3 by Georgia Tech a week earlier.
The decision will be between a skittish senior with SEC experience and the legs to extend plays against a monster UGA defensive line and a Mountain West transfer with a bigger arm but unknown poise. No matter who the starter is, you can be assured that they'll be given a short leash if the Commodores struggle against one of the league's best pass rushes. Ultimately, the competition may be won by the man who can do the most behind an offensive line that has been exploited by big defenders in 2012.
While the main takeaway from Vanderbilt's 58-point victory may have been a budding quarterback competition, there were many other positive notes that the team can focus on.
The Vandy defense looked stellar against a team that didn't have the athletes to run with the 'Dores. Presbyterian managed only 149 yards of offense on the day, including just 47 rushing yards on 34 carries. That's a strong figure for a team that was carved up by Marcus Lattimore and Venric Mark in consecutive games leading up to Saturday. More importantly, the guys who are primed to be the future of this team came through in a big way. True freshmen Darreon Herring and Caleb Azubike both showed off athleticism and tenacity as rotation players, making their marks like Chris Marve did on Dudley Field five years earlier.
That impression carries over to the offense as well, where exciting young playmakers like Brian Kimbrow, Josh Grady, Jacquese Kirk, and Steven Scheu all came through in meaningful minutes. While the Presbyterian game may have been a glorified scrimmage, it did provide a key view into how athletic this team could be when 2014 rolls around. Saturday's contest was a brief glimpse towards the evolution that this team will undergo in coming years. Seeing the 'Dores open holes for Kimbrow to run through and slotting Grady in special formations is the kind of evidence that backs up Franklin's recruiting visits and assurances of a new era of Vanderbilt football.
But that's not all. Check out the Good/Bad Analysis and the PiBB Ice Player of the Week after the jump...
- Austyn Carta-Samuels feels a connection with Chris Boyd. Chris Boyd was simply too big and too fast for the Blue Hose to cover him effectively, and Carta-Samuels exploited that early in the game. Boyd had four catches for 90 yards in the first 31 minutes of play, and likely would have had more if the 'Dores had really wanted to step on the gas against Presbyterian. Carta-Samuels targeted the big wideout with seven of his 19 pass attempts, and if ACS remains the starter for Saturday we could see Boyd with an even bigger day versus the Bulldogs.
- The running game. Four different players ran for touchdowns as the 'Dores rolled up 410 rushing yards in the win. That included Brian Kimbrow's first 100-yard game in a Vanderbilt uniform. Warren Norman even saw his first action of the season, but he didn't look like the explosive presence that he was back in 2009. Here's hoping that Saturday's carries were just the first in a progression for the finally-healthy tailback.
- Special teams. Special teams get a mention for the third week in a row as the 'Dores took care of business with their kicking game against Presbyterian. Carey Spear put together a 3-3 performance on field goals and Brian Kimbrow looked solid fielding kickoffs despite the lower level of competition. Jordan Matthews showed off his value as a punt returner as well, but here's hoping that he'll be stashed until big moments at the position. Vanderbilt can't afford to lose their top wideout to injury shagging kicks.
- Stalled drives in the first half. Vanderbilt had a pair of long drives stall in the red zone early on against Presbyterian, bringing back bad reminders of the team's difficulty scoring against South Carolina and Northwestern. The 'Dores ran a litany of low-impact running plays in X-and-goal situations, and the Hose were able to snuff those out (and ride a key Vandy penalty) to get a pair of stops in the first half. If the Commodores struggled like that on Saturday, what can we expect for this weekend's showdown with Georgia?
- So we beat Presbyterian...now what? I understand the draw of scheduling a FCS team each year. Commodore victories are tough to come by, and bowl eligibility will do more for recruiting than any new uniforms or viral videos ever could. However, a team like the Blue Hose may be a bit too far down the spectrum to add any value to Vanderbilt's season. I'd rather see the team go back to scheduling squads like Richmond who can provide a bit more of a challenge with minimal risk of an upset.
The rising tide of quality players means that FCS programs have a smaller talent gap between them and their big-league counterparts than ever, but there's a balance between winnable and unfair that the Commodores should be exercising. No one wants to see an Appalachian State scenario in Nashville, but I think we can all agree that scheduling the Blue Hose doesn't provide much of a benefit for this team. How about we get the CAA on the line and see if we can work out a few games on the stronger end of the FCS in the future?
The PiBB Ice Player of the Week: Zac Stacy.
Stacy is proof that you don't even have to play 20 minutes of football to win the PiBBy. The senior tailback set a school record with his 86-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game. He finished the contest with 174 yards on just eight carries, and he probably could have set some SEC records if James Franklin had continued to play him. Stacy needed a big game after a pair of disappointing performances against South Carolina and Northwestern. Hopefully his performance on Saturday was the spark that propels him to another All-SEC season.
Who do you want behind center against Georgia this Saturday?
Jordan Rodgers (126 votes)
Austyn Carta-Samuels (122 votes)
248 total votes