The inconsistency of the passing game has drawn most of the attention in Vanderbilt’s first two losses.
Perhaps that is because the running game has been almost non-existent.
After breaking the school record for the most rushing yards in a season, Zac Stacy has failed to gain any traction this fall. The preseason All-SEC tailback is averaging just 3.2 yards a carry and has just 84 rushing yards as the Commodores (0-2) host Presbyterian (1-1) on Saturday (11:30 a.m., CSS Channel 27).
“That is a direct reflection on the O-line,” left guard Ryan Seymour said. “We’ve got to do our jobs better to help Zac run. He is an amazing athlete, an amazing running back. It’s our job to let him loose.”
Four starters return from an offensive line that opened up holes for Stacy last year on his way to 1,193 and 14 rushing touchdowns, also a school record. That same core is struggling to make any headway this fall with just 163 rushing yards to rank last in the SEC in rushing offense.
After practice on Wednesday, coach James Franklin would not say if he is entertaining the idea of shuffling up the offensive line. Earlier in the week he struggled to diagnose the problem only to say the woes were a group effort.
“It’s really not one thing,” Franklin said. “On offense you have to all 11 guys working together to be successful. You got one play an offensive lineman jumps offsides. You got another player a receiver lines up in the wrong formation. You got another play a quarterback misses a check. You got another play you drop a ball. So that is kind of what’s plaguing us.”
Missed blocks have kept the Commodores grounded as was evident against Northwestern last week. Aside from a 55-yard catch-and-run on a screen pass, Stacy struggled to break free. His longest run was seven yards and he failed to get in the end zone for the second straight game.
“I can think of two plays off the top of my head I didn’t block them right and that killed the play,” left tackle Wesley Johnson said. “The running back got tackled right at the line of scrimmage because I wasn’t able to make my block the way I wanted to do it.”
The line is also accepting some of the blame for the uneven passing game. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers has completed just 53.6 percent of his passes, thrown only two touchdowns and turned the ball over three times. But he has also been sacked eight times.
“I’m putting that on the offensive line,” Seymour said. “Just more protection gives him more time, a little more chance to get his reads and hit his receivers.”
In order for the passing game to take off recent history suggests the running game must set the pace.
In 2011, when Stacy rushed for more than 100 yards the Commodores were 4-1. In 15 games under Franklin, they have lost all five games in which they failed to rush for more than 100 yards as a team.
“The running is definitely a very large part of our offense and a large part of our team,” Seymour said. “We’ve got considerably three of the best running backs in this league. It’s up to the offensive line to get these guys some gaps and holes to run through.”