NASHVILLE — It was one of those explosive plays that have defined Vanderbilt’s season.
Zac Stacy was heading toward the end zone, Kentucky defenders trying to tackle him. He kept pushing forward as teammates were trying to block the Wildcats, jumping on top of the pile of moving bodies. The pile didn’t stop moving until Stacy crossed the goal line for an 18-yard touchdown run.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin counts that as an explosive play, and his Commodores are ripping off big gains better than just about any Southeastern Conference team. The Commodores are just a win away from being eligible for their fifth bowl all-time.
The Commodores will try to get that win at Tennessee on Saturday.
“We’re going to be tough to stop when we got everything clicking, and right now we do,” junior quarterback Jordan Rodgers said. “And I’d put our receiver sup with anybody. Right now, I’m confident throwing the ball to anybody we have.”
The Commodores need a win in either of their final two games on the road either at Tennessee on Saturday or Wake Forest, and they’ll get to see if this offense can keep it up.
They have 14 plays of 40 yards or longer, which is one more than Arkansas and Auburn. Vanderbilt ranks behind only Arkansas with 26 plays of 30 yards or more. They have 39 plays rushing for 12 yards or more and 36 passes that have gone for 16 yards or more. As a result, Vanderbilt is scoring an average of 26.1 points per game, which is nine points higher than in 2010.
Franklin and his coaches have a goal of at least eight such explosive plays per game and mentions every Monday whether they reached that mark or not. The Commodores had only six against Kentucky in a 38-8 win last weekend.
“It was a little bit different style of game,” Franklin said. “We were able to run the ball and control the clock and keep our defense off the field and although we’ve run a lot of trick plays ... all year, if something’s not broke, don’t try to fix it. We kept with that game plan. It worked out well for us.”
The Commodores thrived early in the season when the defense was making the big plays with interceptions, returning a pick for a touchdown in each of the first three games.
They cranked up the offense after making the switch at quarterback to Rodgers after a 33-28 loss to Georgia on Oct. 14, finally being able to pass as well as run with a mixture of halfback passes, reverses and options to keep defenses off-balance.
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said the Commodores can do everything after Rodgers took over, and defenses can’t cheat against them now because Vanderbilt can counter whatever they do.
“And what’s interesting is they really find a way to generate big plays, as good as anybody. I think Arkansas is the only team with more big plays than they’ve had. So they get you with a lot of misdirection. They do quarterback runs, the quarterback throws it, the quarterback scrambles and he’s really fast. He’s changed what they’ve looked like on offense, and it’s showed by their points,” Dooley said.
“Big plays and points, that’s the name of the game today.”
The Commodores are averaging 32 points and 425.6 yards total offense over the past five games starting with the game against Georgia where Rodgers came off the bench. Rodgers, the younger brother of NFL Packers’ quarterback Aaron, is averaging 285 yards total offense himself while scoring 10 touchdowns during his four starts. For the season, Rodgers still ranks fifth in the SEC in total offense with 147.1 yards per game compared to the SEC’s leader, Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson (285.3 yards).
Tennessee senior defensive tackle Malik Jackson called Rodgers very decisive and accurate. Vanderbilt also has allowed only seven sacks in the past six games.
“He’s good when he has a lot of time,” Jackson said. “We just have to go out there, pass rush him and get hurry-ups.”
Rodgers has two good receivers in Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, but Matthews has 452 yards receiving and three TD catches in the past three games.
Stacy was named the SEC’s offensive player of the week Monday after running for 135 yards and three TDs against Kentucky. The junior running back is averaging 115.3 yards rushing with eight TDs over the past five games, and he’s had 10 of those explosive plays himself this season.
“I just need to distribute the ball to the players that we have and let our offensive line give me time or blow some holes open for Zac, and that’s what we’ve been doing,” Rodgers said.
AP Sports Writer Beth Rucker in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed to this report.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker