More than anything about Saturday’s game against Army, Jordan Rodgers is looking forward to finally knowing when he’ll go in — at the beginning.
The junior quarterback will make his first start at Vanderbilt since arriving on campus nearly two years ago from Butte (Community) College in California. Rodgers has played in all six games this season but has done so in relief of fifth-year senior Larry Smith.
“The biggest difference is getting in the rhythm of the game early,” Rodgers said. “That is something you don’t have the privilege of doing coming off the bench. You kind of get thrown into whatever the rhythm of the game is, and maybe it takes you a couple series to get warmed up. So it will be nice to start from the beginning, be in my rhythm, get the team going on my pace.”
Rodgers was notified earlier in the week by coach James Franklin that there was a “good possibility” he would start in a 6 p.m. kickoff (ESPNU) against Army (2-4). Franklin made the announcement official on Wednesday, saying Rodgers’ body of work in a 33-28 loss to Georgia moved him in front of Smith on the depth chart.
“It is something I have been dreaming of since leaving high school to go to junior college in hopes of getting a D-I scholarship,” Rodgers said. “A lot of hard work and I’m just happy to get out there and be able to set the tone with my teammates and get things going from the start.”
Rodgers, the brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron, has completed 24-of-51 passes this year for 236 yards with three interceptions and a touchdown.
He was just 4-of-19 passing for 47 yards and no touchdowns and one interception against Georgia. By comparison, Smith was only 5-of-10 for 24 yards with two interceptions — the second leading to his exit early in the second quarter.
But Rodgers sparked Vanderbilt (3-3) with his feet, rushing for 80 yards and guiding them on two scoring drives and almost a third. His two heaves — one incomplete in the end zone, the other completed 16 yards short of the goal line — in the last seven seconds made for a thrilling finish.
“I made a couple mistakes in the Alabama game [on Oct. 8] and in the Georgia game. Just stuff outside of what we’re taught to do and what I usually do. I was disappointed in that,” Rodgers said. “I’m just going to not try to extend myself to make too many plays outside of our scheme and improving my passing numbers will come with that.”
After breaking the school record at Butte with 2,512 yards of offense in 2009, Rodgers transferred to Vanderbilt in January of 2010 with the hope of starting the following fall. But he tore his labrum, forcing him to sit out and undergo surgery. He was still recovering last spring, limiting him in workouts and putting him at a disadvantage with Smith, when the two were battling for the job in August preseason camp.
“Last year being hurt, not feeling like I could play if I had to, that is frustrating,” Rodgers said. “This year ... I was more frustrated with myself than anything that I didn’t place myself in a situation to get on the field. I haven’t done anything yet. The games I have been in for an extended period of time [Alabama and Georgia] we haven’t won. Until I can bring a consistent game to this offense and win a lot more games, we’ll always be trying to get better.”
• Army connection: Two Vanderbilt assistant coaches have ties to Army.
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop spent one season at West Point, coaching the secondary in 1998. First-year cornerbacks coach Wesley McGriff did not coach or play for Army but was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1990. He spent 10 years in the Army Reserves — half of his 20-year coaching career. His father was also in the military and he had three brothers who served in the Navy.
“It was a tremendous experience from a standpoint of helping me mature as a young man and instilling moral discipline in me,” McGriff said. “The one thing you see when you watch Army on video is you see guys that are going to play traditionally harder than most college football teams because those guys have amazing pride. For them to step forward and have that type of commitment once their college career is over with, they know this is probably last time they play organized football.
“The one thing they teach in the military is that whatever you do, go all out.”
• Injury update: Defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone was listed as questionable for the second straight week. Greenstone missed last week’s game after he suffered a lower leg injury against Alabama and was on crutches during Wednesday’s practice.
The team’s leading receiver, sophomore Jonathan Krause, however, was back on the practice field after taking several blows against Georgia. Franklin said the 5-foot-11, 182-pounder “passed the [concussion] test he needed to pass with the doctors and [athletic] trainers.”
“I was kind of kidding around with him the other day that he has to get bigger and stronger because sometimes they toss him around on the field,” Franklin said. “He got banged up and bruised. He is ready to go now.”