As Vanderbilt’s offense tries to find its way in the perilous jungle of SEC defenses, a handful of youngsters are taking the lead.
The Commodores made history last year, winning their first bowl game since 1955, but did so despite having the nation’s third-worst offense statistically. Vanderbilt averaged just 256.2 yards and 19.2 points per game.
It managed just nine points in last week’s loss at LSU, but a youth movement is reason for optimism. As many as six freshmen and sophomores will start on offense for the Commodores (1-0, 0-1 SEC) on Saturday when they host Mississippi State (1-1, 0-1).
One of the freshmen is running back Zac Stacy, who’s rushed for 222 yards in two games, including 89 on 20 carries against LSU. Fellow freshman Warren Norman (105 yards, two touchdowns) has shown promise, too.
“I think the fact that we changed the offense a little bit this year gave those freshmen a chance, because the other guys didn’t have a big experience gap over them,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “They stepped up and showed that they had studied and learned the offense, and they were ready to produce, and they have, so they’ll get playing time.”
The change Johnson speaks of is a no-huddle approach, like what MSU faced last week against Auburn, which gained 589 total yards. Leading the Vanderbilt attack is redshirt sophomore quarterback Larry Smith, a promising talent who beat out the more experienced Mackenzi Adams for the starting job in August.
Smith stepped in for an injured Adams in the Music City Bowl win over Boston College, going 10 for 17 for 121 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions.
MSU defensive coordinator Carl Torbush is quite familiar with Smith, having watched him lead Prattville (Ala.) High School to the Class 6A state title in 2006.
“I said at the time, ‘Wow, Vanderbilt got them a steal on this one.’ I thought he was one of them guys that Alabama and Auburn would’ve been battling for,” Torbush said.
“He’s a very, very fine football player. He’s what you’re looking for in today’s offense, because he can throw it and he can run it.”
Smith has completed 21 of 42 passes for 241 yards with a touchdown a pick through two games. He’s rushed for 60 yards and a TD.
“He’ll get better, but we like what we’re seeing,” Johnson said.
The youth at the skill positions is balanced by an offensive line that has four seniors, led by center Bradley Vierling. He’s certainly optimistic about Vandy’s offense, especially after seeing Auburn hang 49 points on MSU.
“I know what they did to us last year, so we’re definitely going to be ready for that,” Vierling said of MSU’s 17-14 win last season. “But when it comes to Auburn putting up 49, that’s good for them, we’re going to try to put up more than that. We’re just trying to score points every drive we get the ball.”
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal