NASHVILLE, Tenn. | Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson went with youth over experience for his starting quarterback Monday.
Johnson announced redshirt sophomore Larry Smith is his starter, beating out senior Mackenzi Adams and redshirt junior Jared Funk. Smith started the Commodores' historic Music City Bowl win last December and is a former Alabama Mr. Football who led his high school team to a state title.
"All the time you do think of the future, but your big charge now is to win Saturday's game," Johnson said at his weekly news conference. "That's all we're concerned about. We're not playing for 2010, 2011. We're trying to have a big year this year. So our top charge is to try to get the player in there who's going to help us win games this year."
The Commodores love Smith's strong arm and his poise under pressure. Smith appeared in two games last season and was 19-of-34 for 167 yards with one touchdown and one interception. That arm is what Johnson wants for an offense that must improve on 2008 when the Dores ranked 117th out of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total offense.
"We're going to try to move the ball, throw the ball downfield a little bit more than we have the last couple years. Larry also has a presence in the pocket. I think he sees the field very well and knows what we're trying to do with the offense. He's also used to winning a bunch of games," Johnson said.
Smith led Prattville High to a state title as a senior when he was Alabama's Mr. Football in all classes. A three-year starter, Smith led Prattville to a 39-2 record and set school records by throwing for 6,011 yards and 54 touchdowns. Better still, Smith never lost a regular-season game in high school.
"The best way to develop it is to get him in the game," Johnson said.
The Commodores open the season Saturday night at home against Western Carolina, eager to pick up where they left off 2008. That was with a bowl victory that was the school's first in 53 years and capped the first winning season since 1982 at 7-6.
"We want the higher expectations," defensive captain and linebacker Patrick Benoist said. "We have high expectations for ourselves. I think it's great. We're in a great position right now. Just take it one step at a time. Western Carolina is the first step."
Improvement offensively will be key for Vandy to improve over 2008 after averaging an anemic 256.2 yards offense per game, much less than the 319.6 yards given up by the defense. Adams played in all 12 games last year but had more interceptions (eight) than TD passes (five).
Center Bradley Vierling said Smith is one of the most confident and calm players he's ever seen in the huddle.
"I've never been around a guy that's that young and really calm and collected in the huddle. It's always good when you can listen to a guy who's just focused and ready to go. A great quarterback, very strong arm, he did a lot of big things in high school, and hopefully he can bring some greatness here," Vierling said.