The Jordan Matthews who dominated spring and preseason camp practices finally showed up during a game.
The Vanderbilt wide receiver erupted for a season-high six catches, a career-high 151 yards and a touchdown in a 31-28 loss to No. 8 Arkansas on Saturday. It was the most yards by a Vanderbilt receiver since Earl Bennett had 223 against Richmond in 2007.
After he caught a touchdown pass in each of the last four games of 2010, the 6-foot-3, 202-pound Matthews figured to be the Commodores’ go-to receiver entering this season after.
But the sophomore had been non-existent for most of the season, with six games of two or fewer receptions. Prior to Saturday, he had caught just eight passes for 117 yards, which ranked sixth and fourth on the team, respectively.
“I told him just like I tell everybody else, ‘You keep working, you have a positive attitude, good things will happen,’” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. “That is what you can control in life. Have a great attitude and unbelievable work ethic and sooner or later things are going to go in your direction. That is what happened for that kid.
“We’re going to run our offense. If you have an opportunity to make a play, you make a play. And he did that [Saturday]. I think [quarterback] Jordan [Rodgers] just throwing for a higher percentage in general and us making some tough catches and contested catches ... that was the difference.”
Matthews’ big day began early in the first quarter. On a slant route, he reached down to pluck a knee-high pass from Rodgers then cut across the middle of the field for Vanderbilt's first score, a 21-yard touchdown reception. That raised his craeer total to six touchdowns, the most of any active Commodore receiver.
He showed off his athleticism with a one-hand catch and displayed his toughness on another play by holding on after he took a big hit. He also bailed out Rodgers in the second quarter when he came back to the ball and made a leaping grab in front of the defender on an underthrown pass from Rodgers, who was hit as he threw. The play was good for 39 yards and set up Rodgers for a 3-yard touchdown run that gave Vanderbilt a 21-7 lead with 1:39 left in the first half.
"I feel like we had a good rhythm,” Matthews said of Rodgers. “He hit me with a tough throw across the middle [for the touchdown] ... and ever since then we had a great game. He was able to get me the ball a lot [Saturday]. He's a great quarterback and he does what he can on his feet and with the ball in the air."
Rodgers, who finished with a career-high 240 passing yards, connected with Matthews twice on the final drive, including VU's longest pass play of the year. Matthews made an over-the-shoulder, in-stride catch down the sideline for a 48-yard gain. Three plays later on third-and-eight, he caught a 14-yard pass to Arkansas’ 14-yard line.
That set up Carey Spear for a potential game-tying 27-yard field goal, but the kick — with eight seconds left — missed wide right.
“He was great,” Rodgers said of Matthews. “It’s not that he hasn’t been like that. He has always been like that. He stepped up and made some plays [Saturday].”