What stung more than the hip pointer was the loss – and the fact he contributed to it.
Jordan Rodgers’ frustration lingered long after he was pulled in the third quarter of Vanderbilt’s 31-24 loss to Cincinnati in last year’s Liberty Bowl.
“All offseason,” Rodgers said. “It is a bad taste that is going to be in your mouth until you bang heads with another team.”
This time around, the next game is uncertain.
When the Commodores play North Carolina State in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Monday at LP Field, it will be Rodgers’ final collegiate game – and perhaps his last on the gridiron, depending on his professional future.
Thus the fifth-year senior wants to emerge from his last game as Vanderbilt’s quarterback knowing he contributed – in a positive way.
“My job is to keep the offense moving, to protect the ball, don’t turn the ball over,” Rodgers said. “Any time you’re turning the ball over or you’re putting your defense in a tough spot, it is going to be tough to win games.”
Better judgment has benefited Rodgers and the Commodores, who ride a six-game winning streak – the longest active streak in the Southeastern Conference. He has completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 2,431 yards and 13 touchdowns. More importantly, he has thrown just five interceptions.
In 2011, he tossed 10 interceptions, including three games of two interceptions or more.
Perhaps his most disappointing performance came in the Liberty Bowl. Rodgers, who had won over the starting job midway through the season, sputtered with his throws. He completed just four of 14 passes for 26 yards. His interception on Vanderbilt’s opening drive of the second half was the last straw for coach James Franklin, who pulled Rodgers in favor of former starter Larry Smith.
“I was a 100 percent confident in our gameplan,” Rodgers said. “I had one of the best weeks of practice, going into the bowl game. Some days you don’t see things exactly how you think you are going to as a quarterback. Then I got a bad hip pointer in the second quarter that I let affect my play. I chose to stay in without telling anybody for a while when I felt like I wasn’t performing at my best.”
Rodgers fumed afterwards, unhappy with Franklin’s decision.
“Even if you are playing really bad, you’re still not going to want to come out,” Rodgers said. “So I don’t know if it shocked me as much as I was disappointed. You don’t want to play bad in big-time games. So any time your performance merits getting pulled you’re going to be mad about it. That is just the competitor in me. Coach had no problem with me being mad about getting pulled.
“My performance definitely merited getting pulled. Any time that happens and you realize, ‘Hey, I’m not helping my team out,’ it is a tough situation to be in.”
He spent all offseason mulling the loss. But he learned from it – and how to handle unpleasant decisions.
After ball security came into question again this season – four turnovers in the first two games – Rodgers was benched in favor of Austyn Carta-Samuels. He sat out against Presbyterian but, after practicing better the week leading up to a bout with Georgia, he regained his starting job.
The former junior college player has just three interceptions in his last 10 games. Plus, he has made the Commodores well-rounded. In addition to 1,000-yard rusher Zac Stacy, defenses must slow Rodgers and standout wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. Five times this season Vanderbilt has scored more than 40 points – the most since 1915.
Franklin has commented numerous times how much he has enjoyed coaching Rodgers this season. He also continues to impress a star NFL quarterback, and his older brother – Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
“I’m really proud of him, just as a big brother, to be able to watch his development from high school to junior college and then to live out his dream and go to a Division I program,” Aaron said last week. “I know he’s really enjoyed his time there and has made some great friends. He really enjoys the coaching staff and knows that they’re in good hands moving forward with the direction that they’ve set and the players that they have coming back next year.”
For now, though, the younger Rodgers is focusing on the final day of this year and his last game for the foreseeable future.
“I’m going to take the same approach I have this whole season,” he said. “I’m going to take what they give us. I’m confident our offense can move the ball. I’m confident in my playmakers. I’m going to work on positive plays and getting the ball out of my hand as quick as possible into the guys who are going to make plays for me.”