NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt coach James Franklin lists Austyn Carta-Samuels as his quarterback on the new depth chart while keeping the freedom to change his mind before Saturday night’s game at No. 5 Georgia.
Franklin said Monday he will decide by Thursday based on practice who starts against the Bulldogs (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) in what he pointed out is a game-by-game situation.
“I’m going to play the guys that I think give us the best chance to win that game or that drive or that series,” Franklin said. “Whatever we have to do. That’s always going to be our focus.”
Franklin did this last year in his first season at Vanderbilt, starting senior Larry Smith early in the season with Jordan Rodgers coming off the bench before taking over the starting quarterback job for the final seven games. Vanderbilt went 6-7, and Franklin pulled Rodgers during a loss in the Liberty Bowl.
Rodgers started the first two games of this season, both losses to then-No. 9 South Carolina and on the road at Northwestern.
Carta-Samuels, a transfer who played two seasons at Wyoming, was announced with the starters before last weekend in the Commodores’ 58-0 rout of Presbyterian. Carta-Samuels got the benefit of Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-1) running for 410 yards as he was 13-of-20 for 195 yards passing.
Franklin said being able to run helped take pressure off the offense. Vanderbilt had averaged 81 yards rushing in the first two losses, and Zac Stacy ran for 174 yards on eight carries against Presbyterian. Franklin said they think Carta-Samuels ran the game fairly well, though he knows Georgia is a far different test.
“The biggest thing is if we didn’t feel like he could handle the things for Georgia, we probably wouldn’t have made the changes against Presbyterian,” Franklin said.
The 6-foot, 222-pound Carta-Samuels is a native of San Jose. He threw for 3,850 yards with 20 touchdowns and only six interceptions at Wyoming. Franklin noted Carta-Samuels got plenty of experience playing for the Cowboys in big games against Texas and Boise State and has the benefit of being a redshirt junior.
If Carta-Samuels starts against Georgia, it will be his first road game in Athens in the SEC’s third-largest stadium, which seats 92,746. Then the Commodores continue their two-game road trip, visiting new SEC member Missouri next.
“Doing it in here and doing it in the SEC, doing it consistently week in and week out?” Franklin said. “It’s still to be determined.”
How Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, or Carta-Samuels feel about the competitive situation remains unknown. Franklin isn’t letting either talk to reporters, and the coach said Monday he’s doing that to allow the players to focus on practice and preparation.
Asked how Rodgers handled his demotion, Franklin said the quarterback was upset but handled it “unbelievably well” and should be upset, as hard as he has worked.
Quarterback wasn’t the only position change against Presbyterian. Franklin also started sophomore Joe Townsend at center instead of Spencer Pulley, who had started the first two games.
Franklin is trying to hit the right combination and trying to build off his debut season. The Commodores have been close with their last five SEC losses coming by an average 4.6 points. Georgia escaped Nashville last season with a 33-28 victory after Vanderbilt blocked a punt to give the Commodores one last chance at pulling out a victory.
Junior running back Wesley Tate said they all know what Carta-Samuels can do from seeing him in practice.
“We definitely ran the ball more than we threw it last game, but we all know he has a great arm,” Tate said. “He’s a very smart guy.”
Notes: Junior Kenny Ladler is back on the depth chart as the starting free safety after being off last week because of an injury. He did not play against Presbyterian.