Vanderbilt’s 23-9 loss at LSU last Saturday could be considered a victory in one sense: the Commodores got through the entire contest with just one quarterback. Sophomore Larry Smith took every snap and set career-highs for pass attempts (24) and completions (11).
Five times in the previous six games, dating back to last season and including this season’s opener against Western Carolina, Vanderbilt needed two (sometimes more) quarterbacks because of injury and/or inconsistent play.
The Commodores’ next opponent, Mississippi State (6 p.m. Saturday, Vanderbilt Stadium, Fox Sports Net), has had no such game this season and has given no indication that it ever will. Under first-year head coach Dan Mullen, the Bulldogs have rotated two quarterbacks, senior Tyson Lee and sophomore Chris Relf, consistently throughout their first two contests.
“They both do all of (the scheme) very well, but it appears — now only two games have been played — Relf does run the ball more than Lee does on designed runs,” Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. “…It’s not that (Lee) can’t run, but Relf is such a specimen, I have to think they prefer him to run.”
Officially, Lee has been the starter in both contests – a victory against Jackson State and a loss to Auburn. That has extended his streak of consecutive starts to 10.
However, the workload has been divided almost equally. Lee has attempted 24 passes, just three more than Relf, who leads the team in rushing yards. Relf also has shown more of a knack for the big play with MSU’s second-longest rush (26 yards against Auburn) and the longest completion (32 yards against Auburn) of the season.
The division of labor has worked well enough that the Bulldogs already have scored 69 points, their most through two games since 1974.
“I think it is a neat thing for those guys at times to stand on the sideline and view from a different angle what is going on, and them not being the one that is taking the snap,” Mullen said. “By rotating these guys, it really allows them to accelerate some of their learning.”
For Vanderbilt the need to keep up with which player is under center will be a first this season.
Western Carolina’s Zack Jaynes and LSU’s Jordan Jefferson each played virtually start to finish. Neither averaged better than 1.2 yards per rush or 6.9 yards per completion.
“We’ve been preparing for (both) of their quarterbacks and we’ve been … seeing what they do with certain quarterbacks in the game,” safety Sean Richardson said. “We’ve taken that as a big emphasis and tried to learn what plays they might run when each quarterback is in the game.”
Vanderbilt went to a second quarterback against Western Carolina when Smith, in his second career start, began to battle cramps. He had no such problems against LSU and played well enough in that one that VU still was in the game in the fourth quarter.
“Larry can improve, just like everyone else on the team,” Johnson said. “We think he’s doing a pretty good job running our offense. … He’ll get better, but we like what we’re seeing.”
Enough so, that they hope to see him from start to finish of many more games.