Vanderbilt’s longest pass plays of the night belonged to a running back and punter.
Neither, however, touched the ball on the Commodores’ last two heaves toward the end zone.
That task — crazy enough — went to a quarterback. But Jordan Rodgers couldn’t deliver a game-winning touchdown for Vanderbilt, which fell just short of a remarkable comeback in a 33-28 loss to Georgia in front of 36,640 Saturday night at Vanderbilt Stadium.
Vanderbilt, which trailed by 16 early in the second half, lost for the third straight time after a 3-0 start under first-year coach James Franklin. A blocked punt by Udom Umoh gave the Commodores (3-3, 1-3 SEC) the ball at Georgia’s 20-yard line with just seven seconds left. Rodgers’ first toss went incomplete in the end zone as Bulldog safety Bacarri Rambo deflected the pass that went off receiver Chris Boyd’s fingertips. One second remained and Rodgers, feeling pressure, found tight end Brandon Barden underneath. But he was tackled 16 yards short of the end zone.
“It was a good look by Jordan,” Boyd said. “If [Rambo] wouldn’t have gotten a finger on it, I’m pretty sure I would have reeled it in, but it was just out of reach. It hurts. I wish I could have made that play. ... [Rodgers] did everything we expected of him. We’re glad he can make plays like that. We can go a long way with a quarterback like that.”
A quarterback, however, didn’t jumpstart the offense
Punter/kicker Ryan Fowler and running back Zac Stacy were responsible for the biggest offensive plays. The two combined to go 2-for-2 passing for 78 yards and a touchdown.
On a halfback pass, Stacy connected with Jordan Matthews for a 43-yard touchdown to cut Georgia’s lead to 10-7 midway through the second quarter. It was the team’s second longest pass play of the season and it snapped a VU 10-quarter touchdown drought going back to the third quarter of a 30-7 victory over Ole Miss on Sept. 17.
“I’ve never completed a pass that long before,” Stacy said. “I get a little anxious [when the play is called], but you just have to let it rip.”
The play never would have happened if not for a fake punt earlier in the drive. On fourth-and-13 at Vanderbilt’s 22-yard line, Fowler faked a punt and hit snapper Andrew East for a 35-yard gain.
“We’ve got to do whatever we have to do right now ... where we are at as an offense, to find a way to create offense — however that is,” Franklin said. After just 45 rushing yards in the last two games, the ground game got going again. Vanderbilt ran for 200 and two touchdowns. Stacy had a team-high 97 yards, and his 19-yard score cut the lead to 33-28 with 9:15 left.
Vanderbilt quarterbacks, though, combined for just 71 yards on 9-of-29 passing as Rodgers replaced starter Larry Smith in the second quarter.
Smith, who left last week’s game against Alabama due to an ankle injury, threw two interceptions against Georgia, the first of which came at a particularly tough time. He threw it in the opening quarter with the game scoreless and Vanderbilt at Georgia’s 6-yard line. His delivery into triple coverage ended up in the hands of Georgia's Brandon Boykin in the end zone.
Rodgers led Vanderbilt on two scoring drives but neither quarterback threw a touchdown pass — which hasn’t happened since the second game of the season on Sept. 10 against Connecticut. Rodgers, who rushed for 80 yards, lost a fumble right before halftime and was picked off by Rambo with 70 seconds left.
“I don’t want to talk about who is going to be the starting quarterback next week ... we can save that for Wednesday,” Franklin said. “I’d like the focus not to be about the quarterback situation. I would like the focus to be about how our kids competed and how they played. It doesn’t matter who started. It doesn’t matter who gets the ball.”
If that’s the case, there might be two new candidates for the quarterback job.