After nearly being caught napping at Oxford last Saturday, the 10th ranked Razorbacks travel to Nashville, Tennessee this week to take on the vastly improved Vanderbilt Commodores (4-3, 1-3). The 11:21 kickoff will be televised by the SEC Network.
While sluggish starts have plagued the Razorbacks the last three games, their second half flurries have allowed them to dodge all three bullets. The Hogs have outscored those opponents 64-10 in the second half, and caused a lot of angst among the faithful along the way. How long can this trend continue?
Meanwhile Vanderbilt, led by first year head coach James Franklin, was enjoying their fourth win of the season, a 44-21 thumping of Army. The Commodores rolled up 530 yards of total offense, as they held Army — the nation’s top rushing team — to just 270 yards on the ground.
The catalyst for Vandy’s recent surge seems to be tied to their new starting quarterback, Jordan Rodgers. Up until recently, the redshirt junior had been known only for his famous brother — Green Bay Packers starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
That changed a few weeks ago, when Rodgers nearly orchestrated a miracle finish against Georgia, a game the Bulldogs held on to win 33-28. Despite only completing just 43.6 percent of his passes (34-for-78, 422 passing yards), Rodgers has made plays and kept drives alive with his legs. He has 216 rushing yards on the season, third most on the team.
“He’s done a great job these last two weeks. He brings that versatility of throwing and running the ball. He’s going to keep on getting better and we’re just going to build on that.â€ — Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy
While Rodgers has shown flashes, the Commodore running game has been the backbone of this offense. Junior Zac Stacy (579 yards, 5 TDs) and true freshman Jerron Seymour (315 total yards, 4 TDs) have been excellent. Freshman wide receiver Chris Boyd (18.2 yards per catch, 4 TDs) has emerged as a big play threat. Like his brother, Rodgers will take his share of shots down the field.
On defense, though, is where Franklin and Vanderbilt have really made strides. The Commodores currently rank 23rd nationally in total defense (323.9 yards) — a huge improvement from 2010 (92nd nationally, 419.3 yards per game).
For Hog fans expecting the typical steamroller win over a hapless Vanderbilt team, think again. The Hogs open as only a 10 1/2 point favorite. James Franklin has them believing, and with a chance to make a bowl game for just the second time in the last 30 years, Vandy will be a tough out on the road.
The Commodores are 4-1 at home in 2011, and have absolutely nothing to lose versus the Razorbacks. A dangerous combination.