As his numbers increase so do theirs.
In his third year at Vanderbilt, Jordan Matthews has established himself as one of the best receivers in the Southeastern Conference. Through seven games, his 46 receptions are tied for the most in the SEC and the most by a Commodores wideout since Earl Bennett hauled in 75 in 2007.
The rest of the league is trying its best to slow down Matthews — by throwing two or three bodies at him.
“There are certain formations teams will try but it really doesn’t matter,” Matthews said. “I just got to go in, run my some route, no matter what the coverage is, and try my best to get open for the team.”
Matthews struggled to create space last week against Auburn. He hauled in a season-low three passes and finished with 46 yards — his lowest amount since catching just one eight-yard pass against Army last October.
Double coverage on Matthews meant more catches for his teammates as Chris Boyd (six) and Kris Kentera (three) set or tied career-highs.
“I take it as a thing of respect,” Matthews said. “Chris Boyd is a great receiver other teams have to look out for. ... That helps tremendously to have guys on the other side of you that can go make plays and take a lot of pressure off you, it makes Saturdays a lot easier.”
Matthews expects to pick up where he left on in the first half of the season as the Commodores (3-4) host Massachusetts (0-7) on Saturday (6 p.m., Fox Sports Net).
Gradually, the talented receiver has gone from an incredible recruiting catch by former Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson to one of the SEC’s top playmakers. Matthews teased Commodore fans with a promising end to his freshman season as he caught four touchdowns in the final four games.
He followed with spectacular workouts in the spring and during preseason camp but he sputtered at the start of 2011. In the sixth game he caught fire again, with his first touchdown catch, and the switch to quarterback Jordan Rodgers didn’t hurt. Matthews finished with five touchdowns, 783 yards, and three 100-yard performances.
At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds and with great hands, the junior from Madison, Ala., possesses the natural tools to make hard-to-reach grabs look ordinary. Funny thing is, coach James Franklin says, Matthews could be better if he shores up the little things, such as route running and creating separation.
“He’s got a knack for getting open naturally without necessarily doing the things as coaches we teach,” Franklin said. “He has a natural feel for how to get open, which is great. If you combine that with some of the core principles of receiver fundamentals and techniques he can be really good.”
This season, Matthews is stringing together consistent performances. He has three 100-yard performances, four games with eight catches or more and has caught three touchdowns.
His 663 receiving yards is second in the league to Arkansas senior Cobi Hamilton, who has 754 yards and 46 catches. Matthews is on pace to become the first 1,000-yard receiver at Vanderbilt since Bennett, now in his fifth season with the Chicago Bears, accumulated 1,146 yards in 2006.
For his career, Matthews needs just 17 catches to surpass Carl Parker (118) for 10th all-time.
“When you start focusing on that stuff that’s when bad things happen,” Matthews said. “You just got to go out and just play your game. If it happens, it happens but you can’t sit there and worry about it.”
After watching him practice for two-plus years, his teammates know Matthews will work his hardest to make plays happen.
The polite 20-year-old credits his family and his faith for his drive to be better and stay humble at the same time. As a result, his work ethic spills over onto the practice field and into games.
“You throw the ball to him and he goes and gets it,” running back Wesley Tate said. “The way you practice is the way you’re going to play and he definitely practices with a lot of intensity, which shows in the game. He’s very passionate about it.”