The week 11 Edge: UK vs. Vanderbilt




Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers vs. the UK defense

Yes, the rumors are true. Vanderbilt’s new starting quarterback, junior Jordan Rodgers, is indeed the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers. And yes, like his big brother, he is very talented under center.

It has been a gradual progression for Rodgers in his first season as the Commodores’ starter. After completing just 34 of 78 passes for 422 yards in his first seven games, Rodgers is 34-55 for 537 yards and three touchdowns in his last two. But in recent weeks, the most dangerous part of Rodgers’ game hasn’t been his arm; it’s been his legs. The Vandy signal caller has rushed 60 times the last four weeks alone for 261 yards and four touchdowns.

Against a dual-threat quarterback like Rodgers, UK will likely show a lot of different looks at the line of scrimmage in a variety of blitz and coverage schemes. The strength of the defense, the linebackers (Winston Guy included) will have to be prepared for both run and pass on every play and able to cover from sideline to sideline. It has been UK head coach Joker Phillips and defensive coordinator Rick Minter’s goal to create turnovers and eliminate big plays from opposing offenses, both of which start with stopping Rodgers.

Edge: For the first time this season in the Edge, we have a push. Rodgers shows promise of developing into the best quarterback to play at Vanderbilt since Jay Cutler in 2005, and with his throwing and running capabilities, he can be an exciting asset to the Commodores’ offense this year and next. Likewise, the UK defense is far improved from previous years and up for the challenge. The same defense that features the top two tacklers in the SEC is fast and physical, especially against the run. If it can prevent getting beaten deep in the secondary, the defense can slow down Rodgers and the ‘Dores. If UK allows the big play or fails to force turnovers, expect Rodgers to have another big day.

UK quarterback Maxwell Smith vs. mounting expectations

Since being inserted as the Cats’ starting quarterback, Smith has helped turn around a season that many thought to be a lost cause a handful of weeks ago.

Against Mississippi State, Smith relieved junior quarterback Morgan Newton after he suffered shoulder and high ankle injuries. Smith has been the guy in Phillips’ offense ever since. Against Mississippi State and Ole Miss last week combined, Smith completed 45-69 for 457, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Against Ole Miss, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders opened up the offense to Smith, allowing him to throw a number of balls down the field. Many times, Smith had an open receiver and just couldn’t connect, until he hit junior wide receiver La’Rod King for a 38-yard touchdown to put UK ahead for good. If the coaching staff continues to feel comfortable with Smith’s progression, it can open up more of the offense to him and help it keep up with SEC competition.

Vanderbilt, however, has a far superior defense to the likes of Mississippi State or Ole Miss. The Commodores rank 40th in the nation in opponents points per game, and despite falling in its last three SEC games, Vanderbilt lost to Georgia, Arkansas and Florida by just a combined 13 points.

Edge: Smith. If Smith struggles to get the offense going early, the road atmosphere, fan expectations and bowl game implications may rattle the young quarterback. But Smith does not need a monster game to help his team and secure a second consecutive win in conference. If he can do enough to keep up on the scoreboard, and the Cats can get their running game going with junior CoShik Williams, Smith and the UK offense will continue their much-improved play from recent weeks.

Overall Edge: The edge goes to the Cats in a tough road game. Two teams on the outside of bowl games, UK and Vanderbilt find themselves at similar junctures in their seasons with three games left. The difference is that UK is coming off of five consecutive bowl berths, and its veterans know what it takes to reach a bowl game out of the SEC. Vanderbilt’s core players, Rodgers included, are not experienced in playing meaningful games this late in the season and may not be up for the occasion. With similar talent and in similar situations, UK’s experience alone gets it the slight nod this Saturday.