So far this season, dual-threat quarterbacks have caused splitting headaches for the Vanderbilt defense.
This weekend, the Commodores aim to make James Franklin see double — Missouri’s James Franklin that is.
The Tigers’ junior quarterback, who shares no relation to Vanderbilt’s coach of the same name, sliced defenses apart last year with his ability to run on the fly. He hasn’t had the same sort of success this season as Missouri (3-2, 0-2) gets accustomed to the much more physical Southeastern Conference.
But the Commodores (1-3, 0-2) don’t want to let him get started on Saturday (6 p.m., Fox Sports South) when the teams meet in Columbia, Mo.
“He is a very athletic man. He’s got a great arm and quick feet so we’re going to have our hands full,” defensive end Walker May said. “You got to keep them caged in because they can move and they will. So when you pass rush you just have to know you can’t run by them. You have to always keep ‘cage integrity,’ is what we call it. So when you go up field, you’ve always got to work back under because you know he is going to step up and move with his feet.”
Last year, Franklin emerged as one the country’s top dual threats. He rushed for 981 yards and 15 touchdowns in addition to passing for 2,865 yards and 21 scores. In his first year as the starter, he led the Tigers to eight wins, including a victory over North Carolina in the Independence Bowl, during their last year in the Big 12.
This year, however, has been tough sledding for the 6-foot-2, 228-pounder. He has just 52 net rushing yards on 50 carries and no touchdowns. He’s completed 61.8 percent of his passes but has thrown just four touchdowns, with only two against SEC opponents.
In addition, he’s been knocked around more. The Tigers have allowed 13 sacks – second-most in the league. Against Georgia in the SEC opener last month he took a shot to his throwing shoulder, which kept him out of Missouri’s next game against Arizona State. He received much attention for not taking painkillers to help with the pain — a family decision — and has said the injury has rattled his confidence.
“They’ll go as he goes,” Vanderbilt’s James Franklin said. “I think they’re running him a little bit less than maybe in the past. I think that’s partly because of the defense and that’s partly because of the shots he has taken against the defenses the following weeks. You want to limit those shots on him.”
Rodgers still on top: Jordan Rodgers remains atop the depth chart at quarterback.
After being benched against Presbyterian, the senior was 13 of 23 for 218 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions (but one lost fumble) in a 48-3 loss to No. 5 Georgia two weeks ago. Franklin said if Rodgers practices well this week he’ll get the start over junior Austyn Carta-Samuels.
“If we would have played last Saturday, [Rodgers] would have been the starter,” Franklin said. “But this week stands alone and we’ll see how this week goes.”
Long time: Dwight Eisenhower was the president the last time Vanderbilt played Missouri. The Commodores snuck out a 12-8 victory on the road in 1958 to defeat the Tigers for the first time in four tries (they tied in Nashville the year before).
Missouri connection: Vanderbilt doesn’t have any players from Missouri but Franklin is familiar with the Show-Me state.
He spent two years (2006-07) as the offensive coordinator at Kansas State and lost to the Tigers both seasons in Big 12 play. He often crossed paths on the recruiting trail, noting that he pursued current Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, and expressed respect for familiar faces in coach Gary Pinkel, offensive coordinator David Yost and defensive coordinator Dave Steckel.
“Fifty wins in the last five-plus years there, which is impressive, and have played in seven straight bowl games,” Franklin said. “They’ve done a great job of really creating a winning culture there.”
Game time set: Vanderbilt’s home game against No. 10 Florida on Oct. 13 will start at 5 p.m. and will be aired on ESPNU. It is the first of three straight home games for the Commodores.