James Franklin's debut as a NCAA head coach was a successful one as Vanderbilt topped FCS opponent Elon in their season opener 45-14.
Larry Smith showed that can he lead the 'Dores to victory, showing a new dimension of crisp passing to lead the 'Dores offensively. Vanderbilt's beleaguered offensive line did a solid job of protecting their fifth-year quarterback, allowing Smith to put together one of his most impressive showings in black and gold. Despite finishing 13 of 27 in the air, the captain showcased improved accuracy in finding guys like Jonathan Krause, Jordan Matthews, and Brandon Barden throughout the night.
Vanderbilt opened the scoring after a slow start when Smith connected with Fitz Lassing on a short cross that the backup tight end ran into the end zone. Elon, led by standout WR Aaron Mellette, answered with a 13 play drive to show that they wouldn't go away quietly. Dontay Taylor's one-yard rush knotted the game at 7-7.
Coach Franklin's risk-taking style would shine in Vandy's next possession, as the 'Dores went for it in a fourth and three situation at Elon's 16 yard line. Smith shredded the Phoenix defense on a designed draw to give the home team a lead they wouldn't relinquish. The next possession, Trey Wilson's pick-six pushed the Vanderbilt advantage to 14 points.
Elon would stick around behind Mellette's ability at wideout, but Vandy's talent proved to be too much. Carey Spear and Chris Boyd would add their first points as Commodores to push the team to a three possession lead.
Casey Hayward, despite being the victim of some of Mellette's big grabs, added a big interception in the fourth quarter to effectively seal the game for Vanderbilt. Wesley Tate would run an end-around from wideout to score from 24 yards out on the very next play. Tate's run gave the 'Dores a 38-14 lead and deflated Elon's hope of an upset in Nashville.
Jordan Rodgers entered the game at quarterback after Smith was shaken up in the fourth quarter with a minor shoulder injury. He made an immediate statement with a 30 yard touchdown strike to Boyd on the first pass of his NCAA career. While the rest of Rodgers's fourth quarter couldn't live up to the hype of his first pass, he still proved himself to be a capable signal caller for the 'Dores. He finished with 3-4 passing and 52 yards in just nine minutes of game time.
The win was a big statement in Franklin's first game at the helm, as Smith and his crew proved that the 'Dores can put together an effective and exciting offense. However, it came at the hands of an average FCS program who will likely go down as the team's weakest opponent of 2011. While the team showed that they can handle a SoCon team, they'll have plenty to prove when it comes to SEC opponents.
Still, it's a great start for the Commodores, who will look to push this momentum into next week's game with Connecticut.