Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin will have a tough decision leading up to Saturday's game with Georgia. Will he start the quarterback who helped lead the Commodores to the Liberty Bowl in 2011? Or will he turn to last week's starter - the 2009 Mountain West Freshman of the Year?
Franklin has yet to declare a starter for Vandy's showdown with the Bulldogs, instead leaving Jordan Rodgers and Austyn Carta-Samuels to battle for the position throughout practice this week. Rodgers started the first two games of the season and was ineffective while operating in an exceedingly conservative gameplan. Carta-Samuels played through the majority of last week's 58-0 stomping of Presbyterian, but his solid numbers came at the hands of an inferior opponent.
Picking between the two will be a difficult task. Both are effective passers who have led teams to bowl appearances in their first years as eligible players. However, it's been difficult to stack up Rodgers and Carta-Samuels when the majority of the meaningful background that Vandy fans have had on Carta-Samuels have come from practice reports over the past two seasons. In order to back up the stories from preseason camp, I decided to look into how each player has fared against high-level competition during their NCAA careers.
The comparison isn't perfect. We're looking at two quarterbacks from two very different schools that have played a very different slate of opponents in recent years. We're also comparing Carta-Samuels as a freshman/sophomore in 2009/2010 to Rodgers as a junior college transfer and redshirt junior/senior in 2011/2012. However, a look into their numbers helps to fill out the debate as their quarterback competition wears on.
To make things even, I collected 10 sample games against high level competition for both quarterbacks. For Rodgers, that included every game that he has taken the bulk of the team's snaps after Vandy's 34-0 loss to Alabama in 2011. For Carta-Samuels, that includes games against Mountain West opponents that would become BCS foes like Utah and TCU, teams that have been consistently BCS level squads like Texas and Colorado, and the team's bowl victory over Fresno State. That may be fudging the numbers on Carta-Samuels a bit - his numbers include games in which he split time with former Cowboy incumbent Robert Benjamin - but it also gives us a nice round number to work with for comparisons against Rodgers.
Unfortunately, finding comprehensive numbers on Carta-Samuels's fumble totals proved to be a difficult task. Wyoming's official website only posts their postgame reports in .pdf form, which made compiling his mistakes too time-consuming for this article. As a result, that statistic wasn't counted in this analysis. It's interesting to note that Jordan Rodgers has six fumbles in his 10 games against BCS opponents, however.
Read on past the jump for the full 20-game breakdown and some insight into the statistics.
One thing is clear from this breakdown; neither quarterback has much experience winning games against high-level opponents. The two have combined to go just 3-17 against the NCAA's elite in their four combined seasons of play. Those wins have come against Kentucky, Wake Forest, and Fresno State. That's a statistic that may harken more to the quality of players around them than the quarterbacks themselves, but it is still a disappointing figure for Vanderbilt fans.
The numbers also seem to back up a common observation around Commodore practices. While Rodgers is the more dynamic playmaker thanks to his running abilities, Carta-Samuels has been the more accurate passer. Though neither player is setting any records thanks to completion rates under 60 percent, the Wyoming transfer posted a significantly higher percentage at 57.8.
Carta-Samuels, despite having that better rate, has passed for fewer yards per game than Rodgers. The two have the exact same number of completed passes, but Rodgers is nearly 500 yards ahead of his counterpart in this comparison. A look at their longest passes by game helps explain why. While Carta-Samuels may have been subject to a conservative playbook, he also lacked the explosive athletes that Vanderbilt has been able to put at wide receiver, tight end, and tailback. His longest play against Presbyterian - a 38-yard completion to Chris Boyd - would have registered as his second-longest completion against BCS-level opponents at Wyoming.
In all, Rodgers leads the way offensively by having passed and ran for more total yards than Carta-Samuels over this span. However, these numbers can be deceiving. Many of Rodgers's big plays have come thanks to Franklin's screen-heavy offense, which puts the impetus of large gains on strong efforts after the catch rather than throwing the ball downfield. While Carta-Samuels may lag behind the 2012 incumbent at QB, it's difficult to translate his figures from working in Wyoming's system and compare them to how he would have done at Vanderbilt. Unfortunately, with only a start against Presbyterian under his belt, it's the best background we currently have on the redshirt junior's quarterbacking skills.
The statistics seem to back Rodgers as a stronger playmaker, but he hasn't shown that ability so far in 2012. His 200-yard passing games against South Carolina and Northwestern are more attributable to strong receiver play and defensive lapses than his ability to step up in the pocket and make throws. However, he's capable of being a home run threat, and that skill will make him difficult to keep off the field.
Still, Carta-Samuels has shown that he deserves a shot to make things happen with the most talented supporting cast that he's ever had. He's got plenty to prove as a Commodore, but his history suggests that he'll have the edge on Rodgers when it comes to delivering passes through tight windows. We won't know which player will earn the start until Saturday - my hunch is that Franklin gives us the old -OR- designation on this week's depth chart - but we do know that either choice will need big efforts from this team's skill players to shine against Georgia.