Jordan Rodgers faced a lot of adversity before he ever got into a game at Vanderbilt. No D1 scholarship offers out of HS, 2 years of junior college football, and a major shoulder surgery that set him back once he got to Vanderbilt. It is a remarkable achievement in itself that he worked his way into being an SEC starting QB. But once you get that job, few care how you got there. Underdog? That’s cool. Brother of Aaron Rodgers? Nice story. But a successful quarterback has to perform in the clutch.
So it was a different type of adversity Rodgers faced after last season’s crushing loss at Tennessee. He felt responsible for his team’s loss, committing multiple errors:
- a fumble on the opening possession, which led to UT’s first TD
- an overthrow of a sure TD to an open Jordan Matthews just before halftime
- 3 interceptions, including one at the end of regulation with the Commodores driving for a potential game winning FG try, and another which abruptly (and controversially) ended the game in OT.
A tough loss is always hard to get over , especially in a game that close against an arch-rival. But nobody took it harder than Rodgers, who called his performance “unacceptable” right afterwards. He rebounded well the next week at Wake Forrest, helping VU get to a bowl game for only the 2nd time in 29 years. But he hadn’t forgotten what happened in Knoxville.
Since then, Rodgers has worked to improve his decision making and accuracy. After some early up’s and down’s which led to him being benched for a September game vs. Presbyterian, his level of play has gotten better in those two areas. Starting with his return to the starter’s role at Georgia, he has completed 61% of his passes. In those 7 games he has 5 wins, 7 TD passes and only 2 interceptions. More importantly, he has made key plays at key times, no more so than on the final drive in Oxford last week, where he converted a 4th and 3 with a tough run, then hit two giant throws for the go-ahead TD. His completion percentage for the season is now 59% , up from 50% a year ago.
Despite these strides, Rodgers evaluated his own play as “better, but not where I want it to be”. There is little doubt that he has this week in mind. When asked about last year’s game against the Vols, Rodgers stated “My performance dictated the end of that game—and that is not going to happen again”. He is clearly determined to bounce back from the adversity of last year, and referenced it several times during Monday’s press conference. To do it, he may have to play his best game of the year.
Although Tennessee has major issues swirling around them as they come to Nashville, Tyler Bray and the Vols can score and score big. It’s tough to expect any defense to shut those types of weapons down. There will be pressure for Rodgers and the VU offense to match them- not an easy task despite UT’s defensive woes. He will have to make the clutch throws that he made last week at Ole Miss- but did not make a year ago in Knoxville.
A win turns what is a very good season into a special season- and will forever change Rodgers’ legacy at Vanderbilt. It’s the type of challenge that sports, and life, are all about. Nobody knows that more than Jordan Rodgers.