Vanderbilt doesn’t care which of three potential starters plays quarterback for Auburn on Saturday as long as he stays put.
The Commodores are still licking their wounds after Jeff Driskel gashed them for 177 yards on 11 carries in a 31-17 loss to Florida last weekend. Driskel set a rushing record by a Florida quarterback — breaking Tim Tebow’s mark of 167 yards — and exposed a glaring weakness for Vanderbilt (2-4, 1-3 SEC).
“Obviously, what do you think we’re going to work on all week long? Quarterback running game,” coach James Franklin said on Monday at his weekly press conference. “Those things are very important for us and I think they’re going to be important for [Auburn] and we’ll be ready to defend it.
"We have to be ready for all three of those quarterbacks.”
Clint Moseley made his first start of the season for Auburn last week against Ole Miss and completed 11 of 18 passes for 112 yards. But Franklin said the Commodores also will prepare for Kiehl Frazier, who completed just 54.4 percent of his passes and had eight interceptions in the first five games.
Also a threat to take direct snaps for Auburn (1-5, 0-4) in the wildcat formation is freshman Jonathan Wallace. The former high school quarterback has played in the last three games.
“It's not like they are putting a running back back there and you don't have to worry about the pass at all. You still better be ready to defend the pass,” Franklin said. “I don't think it causes too much of an issue because it's not like the one kid is a straight, drop back passer and the other guy is a dual-threat guy. I think all of them are very similar.”
Defending the pass hasn’t been the issue for the Commodores, who rank seventh in the country, allowing just 148.2 passing yards a game.
Stopping the mobile quarterback is their Achilles heel.
Even before Driskel fooled the Commodores over and over again with the fake handoff, they were immune to letting quarterbacks scramble for big gains.
In the season opener, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw rolled up 92 yards on the ground. The following week, Kain Colter picked up 66 yards for Northwestern. Vanderbilt caught a break against Missouri when quarterback James Franklin went out with a knee injury after the second series. The dual threat gained 23 yards on his only run.
“Driskel was getting [his yards] in run sets,” Franklin said. “They were a predominantly heavy run set, pro formation and run the ball. Then they did a great job of riding that tailback down inside and getting our defense to collapse and then pulling the ball and getting on the edge.
“Connor Shaw and those other ones were spread formation and more of zone-read type plays. To me, those are two different animals.”
After reviewing the tape of the Florida game, Franklin said on each of Driskel’s three touchdown runs a different Vanderbilt defender was caught out of position. A cornerback, linebacker and defensive end all didn’t keep contain on Driskel, allowing him to go untouched in the end zone.
Of the 1,221 net rushing yards allowed by Vanderbilt this season, nearly 30 percent (357) have been by quarterbacks.
“We just need to fit it up better,” defensive end Johnell Thomas said. “Of course, we’re practicing that all week. That’s what we’re going to focus on — quarterback run. I’m sure we've opened it up to other teams, they see where we make some mistakes there in that category.”