For the first time in five years, Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith will play a football game in his home state.
And for the first time since last season, he hopes to make it through an entire game.
Smith, a native of Prattville, Ala., leads the Commodores, coming off an open date, into Tuscaloosa for a daunting challenge against No. 2 Alabama at 6 p.m. (ESPNU) on Saturday.
The Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0) rank third in the nation in total defense.
“I’m definitely going to have to make some plays with my feet,” Smith, a fifth-year senior, said. “The main thing I’ve got to do is get back to fundamentals because over the past few weeks we kind of got away from that, especially in the South Carolina game. We left a lot of plays on the field.”
Smith also landed on the field a lot against the Gamecocks. He was sacked six times and left late in the third quarter after a neck stinger, which was the result of a collision of helmets with a defender in pursuit of a fumble.
Smith has been sacked 15 times on the season.
“We’ve got to start protecting him,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said after the 21-3 loss.
Smith left the season opener against Elon and emerged afterwards with a huge ice pack over his right shoulder. Against Connecticut, he was sacked seven times, left the field but returned later, favoring his right arm. Against Ole Miss, he took another hard hit and exited after losing a contact lens.
“That bye week definitely paid off for me,” Smith said after Wednesday’s practice. “It was a little bit of everything [feeling sore] but now I’ve got that week’s rest and I’m feeling a lot better now.”
He’ll try to jumpstart an offense that ranks 117th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total yards (258 per game) and 119th — out of 120 teams — in third-down completion rate (20 percent).
Smith has completed 57.5 percent of his overall throws for 412 yards and three touchdowns. He also has thrown three interceptions and lost four fumbles — two of which led directly to touchdowns.
“It is a little bit of both, offensive line as well as myself, as far as getting the right protection, stepping up in the pocket and making more plays with my feet, instead of taking those sacks and holding onto the ball,” Smith said. “I like to put that on my back and take the blame for that.”
It won’t be the first time Smith has played in Bryant-Denny Stadium. He didn’t grow up an Alabama or Auburn fan. Instead, he rooted for his father’s favorite team, Florida State.
But Smith did visit the Alabama campus and stadium as he was recruited (but not offered a scholarship) by the Crimson Tide. He also watched a couple games there when former Prattville standout Roman Harper, currently a safety with the New Orleans Saints, played Alabama.
Smith finished his prep career on a high note, leading Prattville to a 15-0 record and a state championship. He broke the school’s record for passing yards (6,011) and touchdowns (51).
Prattville is just 90 miles southeast of Tuscaloosa and Smith anticipates more than 30 family members and friends to be either in the stadium or outside tailgating.
“I can’t even count because I had so many family members and friends contact me about tickets,” Smith said. “They’ll be in the stands cheering for the Commodores.”