Mackenzi Adams, who came off the bench and rallied Vandy to a win over Auburn on Oct. 4, will start Saturday at No. 10 Georgia unless something unusual happens. But Johnson said Adams will get most of the work in practice this week instead of Chris Nickson and hopefully give a fresh start to the offense.
"Mackenzi has demonstrated he can sit in the pocket and figure things out and see who’s open and do a good job of hitting them," Johnson said Monday.
"I don’t think there’s a big dropoff when you start running the quarterback draws and the options and things like that. Mackenzi’s a good athlete and can run and actually made some very fine runs. Just another way to see if we can get better."
Adams was not available Monday on the players’ day off. Center Bradley Vierling said the change would not affect the offense adversely.
"It’s good that we still have Chris. I’m glad he’s not hurt. I don’t know why there was a change. I have no idea. ... I just block for the guy whoever’s behind me. I would be excited no matter who’s behind me," Vierling said.
Johnson pulled Nickson in last weekend’s 17-14 loss at Mississippi State after the quarterback was intercepted early in the fourth quarter. But Vanderbilt (5-1, 3-1) did not pick up a first down in either the first or third quarter with Nickson and finished with only 107 yards total offense in a loss that dropped the Commodores from No. 13 to 22nd.
Nickson completed only 3 of 10 passes for 15 yards against the Bulldogs. But the senior hadn’t completed more than nine passes in any game this season or thrown for more than 91 yards. That is a key reason why Vandy ranks 116th out of 119 Bowl Subdivision teams in passing offense.
His biggest threat has been with his legs as Vandy’s second-leading rusher. The Bulldogs had a defender assigned to the quarterback, and Nickson ran 12 times for 7 yards.
Johnson said part of the Commodores’ struggles at Mississippi State were due to the Bulldogs using a defense they had shown rarely this season, catching Vanderbilt by surprise. The Commodores didn’t adjust well either at halftime, and Johnson said they didn’t take advantage of their chances.
"We had to make a change. Mackenzi came in and did a good job. Looking to see what he can do with it," Johnson said of the 6-foot-3 redshirt junior. "He’s a motivated young man, a go-getter, and we think he maybe can provide a spark and hopefully we can get some things going on offense. We weren’t very good against Mississippi State."
Adams had his best passing performance last season against Kentucky when he threw for 193 yards.
He also came off the bench cold when Nickson aggravated a shoulder injury against Auburn and threw for 153 yards and two touchdowns for Vandy’s best passing performance of 2008.
He went in against the Bulldogs and was 5-of-9 for 47 yards in driving the Commodores to a touchdown to pull within 17-14 midway through the fourth quarter. But the offensive line couldn’t protect him late as Mississippi State sacked Adams on third down to end one threat.
Now Vanderbilt is heading to Georgia where the Commodores won 24-22 in 2006. They lost 20-17 in Nashville last season after losing a fumble on their way into the end zone for a clinching touchdown.
Johnson is preaching patience for a program that hasn’t won six games in a season since 1982 — a string of 25 straight seasons. Their final six opponents are a combined 23-11 starting with Georgia and including No. 5 Florida.
"Right now we just can’t panic. We’re 5-1. If I could start off 5-1 every year, put me down," Johnson said.