Logan Stewart is gaining a reputation — and not the good kind.
Vanderbilt’s sophomore offensive lineman has been in the middle of a couple scuffles as of late, most recently in a 26-21 loss to Florida last weekend. The center was flagged twice, the second was a 15-yard personal foul penalty for a late hit late in the second quarter.
Stewart was suspended for the first half against Army on Oct. 22 — a week after he delivered an illegal block against Georgia’s Kwame Geathers, who retaliated with a personal foul.
“I think people around the league and other teams are trying to get him to react. We’re too smart to react,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. “But I would rather that be the problem than the opposite. I’d rather have a fighter’s mentality and being aggressive and having to pull guys back off than me trying to push them to be aggressive and physical.”
Franklin said he talked to Stewart on Sunday night for two hours about keeping his composure in heated situations.
“We just talked about keeping poised, keep playing hard but keep poised and walk away from things like that,” Stewart said. “It can be difficult but it has got to be done, because even though I play the game with fire I know I got to play in between the whistles and play it fair. I’ve always played the game that way, ever since I was little. I think that gives me and edge but I’ve got to control it and not let it affect me and affect the team.”
Stewart, a 6-foot-4, 285-pounder from Boiling Springs, S.C., started at center the last six games of his freshman season in 2010. In high school, he played primarily at left tackle but found his niche snapping the ball so much that he was expected to resume the duties this fall.
Instead, a bout with mononucleosis caused him to miss all of August preseason camp. He made his first appearance in the third week against Ole Miss and made his first start two weeks later against Alabama. His presence has helped solidify an offensive line — a unit that has allowed just five sacks in its last five games. The Commodores gave up 16 sacks in four games in September.
Keeping his cool and staying on the field could be essential to not only pass protection but the running game, which has averaged 211.5 yards in the last four games.
“The offensive line has definitely picked it up and that’s the obvious we’re trying to get [running back] Zac [Stacy open]. He could be the first 1,000-yard rusher since ,” Stewart said. “We take pride in that. We take pride in giving up a few sacks. As long as we’re doing our job it makes everyone else’s easier.”
In general, the penalties have started to pile up.
Heading into Saturday’s game against visiting Kentucky, the Commodores have averaged more than seven flags and 59.8 yards — both rank 10th in the Southeastern Conference. Kentucky, on the other hand, leads the conference with the fewest penalty yards per game (32.4).
Against Florida, Vanderbilt was flagged 12 times for 106 yards — both season-highs. The Commodores committed eight penalties or more three times this season. They twice had chances to stop the Gators on their final drive. Defensive tackle Rob Lohr jumped offsides on a fourth-and-1 inside Florida’s 20-yard line and safety Sean Richardson was later called for a pass interference on a third-and-long. Offensively, holding penalties, false starts and personal fouls helped put the Commodores in a 17-point hole early.
“It has been a big point of emphasis. We need to cut the penalties out,” quarterback Jordan Rodgers said. “They have been drive-stoppers for us. Being a disciplined team is something we need to do. It is an advantage we need to have over other teams. We haven’t been doing that as well as we want to. But we’re just going to continue to make that point of emphasis in practice all week and try to clear some of those up so we can play as mistake-free as possible on Saturday.”