Vanderbilt's best runner week to week comes down to coaches' best guess

The running game has become a guessing game for Vanderbilt.

Wesley Tate was the starter for the first two weeks and finished each contest as the Commodores’ third-leading rusher.

Last Saturday at South Carolina, the senior from Hendersonville did not even play until the second half. Once he got his chance, though, he delivered the best rushing performance (10 carries, 71 yards) by a Commodores back this season.

“I thought Tate came in and ran hard and ran angry,” coach James Franklin said. “He has to do that every week and every single day at practice and be more consistent.”

Jerron Seymour started in Tate’s place and finished with 39 yards (his lowest total of the season) on six carries. He also scored a rushing touchdown for the third straight game.

Brian Kimbrow also had his worst day of the season (five rushes for 16 yards).

Headed into Saturday’s game at UMass (11 a.m., ESPNews), Seymour has a team-high 128 rushing yards and three touchdowns, Tate has run for 127 yards and two touchdowns, and Kimbrow has run for 104 and one touchdown.

“I think the fact that we have three backs that we feel pretty good about is a positive for us we’re going to keep going into this with whoever practices the best,” Franklin said. “Then whoever plays the best will get the most carries. As [Tate] did well, he got more opportunities.”

None of the three are among the SEC’s top 15 backs in yards per game, and Vanderbilt currently is last in the SEC in rushing yards per game (138.7) and yards per carry (4.1). The Commodores have, however, scored nine rushing touchdowns, which are more than all other conference teams except Ole Miss (10).

All three are capable and have proven themselves so over the last couple years.

The challenge for the coaching staff apparently is to try to get the right guy on the field at the right time. In Tate’s case, it might be to make him wait.

“He gets the eye of the tiger sometimes,” quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels said. “When we got in the huddle there and he came back on the field, I could see in his eyes he was frustrated, with what I don’t know. But it’s good to see that look. Because you could tell – he ran like a bull and he ran hard. All I’ll say is when [Tate] does that, he’s tough to stop.

“I’m excited to see him run like that for the next nine games because he definitely flashed what he can do.”