Each day this week Down The Drive will preview an important facet of the game in advance of the Liberty Bowl being played this Saturday at 3:30 PM Eastern time on ABC against Vanderbilt. Up today, the Vanderbilt passing game.
As discussed previously the main cog in the Commodore machine are the legs of Zac Stacy. They go out of their way to get him touches in different ways. He is their offense. That shouldn't be that much of a surprise, the SEC is an RB driven league in terms of offenses. There are exceptions, Auburn last year, Florida with the Meyer/Tebow thing and Arkansas so long as Bobby Petrino is there. But for the most part it is neigh on impossible to win without a quality running back in the SEC. Vanderbilt made the decision early in the year that they would go as far as Zac Stacy carried them. Arguably the biggest reason for that is that the QB play has been erratic at best in 2011.
The Commodores returned Larry Smith this year. A senior with enough talent to win and 20 starts to his name. But Smith was erratic at worst and inefficient at best this year. He was replaced as starter by Jordan Rodgers who has a certain brother who does a certain belt centric celebration anytime he does something good. Rodgers has been a shot in the arm for the Vanderbilt offense. That's what you will hear if you ask a Vanderbilt fan about Rodgers.
The numbers tell a slightly different story. While there is little doubt that Rodgers has been the better option at QB down the stretch of the season. But I am not entirely sold on the concept of Jordon Rodgers as more than an above average QB. His skill set is a fine match for the offense he is in. He can run the ball pretty well, 384 yards and 4 scores, he has a pretty good arm and is generally a good leader according to most Dore watchers I have interacted with. But when I look at the rosy picture being painted and then I look at his stats something seems off.
Over his 6 games as a starter he has averaged 210 yards per game and has a a QB rating of 132.3 which isn't bad at all, but it's not that great either. The real issue with Rodgers to this point is that he tends to make questionable decisions as his 8:6 TD:INT ratio as a starter will attest. On the year Rodgers has thrown 9 of them in total. But look at where those INT's have come from on the field
|Own 1-19||Own 20-39||Own 40-Opp 40||Opp 39-20||Opp19-1|
4 of Rodgers INT's set his opponents up in (basically) instant field goal position, two more of them came in the redzone, effectively taking points off the board. That's a crucial weakness for a team that is basically built to win games on the margins. Take a look at Rodgers QB rating based on position on the field.
|Own 1-19||Own 20-39||Own 40-Opp 40||Opp 39-20||Opp 19-1|
That is not a pretty picture. Its really hard to brush a sub 70 red zone QB rating under the table. Generally every QB's rating and completion percentage take dips in the red zone. There is less field available which means truncated routes and much smaller windows in the coverage. But Rodgers red zone rating is effectively half his rating in any other area of the field. It goes without saying that is somewhat less than normal.
Every Cincinnati Bearcats fan knows the biggest weakness of the defense and the team in general is the secondary. UC is one of the worst teams in the nation in pass coverage and the teams that have had success throwing the ball have given the Bearcats fits. Vanderbilt has the ability to score some points against UC, but only if they get good mistake free Football from Jordan Rodgers. Remeber that while UC gives up yards, the DB's play the ball, and do so aggressively. That could be an issue for the Dores in this game with Rodgers accuracy and decision making issues.