In the second year with Clark Lea as head coach, Vanderbilt Football currently has a record of 3-2 during their first of two byes. The wins came on the road at Hawaii, at home against Elon, and on the road at Northern Illinois. The losses came at home to #23 Wake Forest, and on the road against #2 Alabama. This is what many had a feeling the record would be throughout the first five games. However, many things have happened that were not expected, some good and some bad.
Here are some key points:
- Freshman QB A.J. Swann surprisingly took over for Mike Wright after just 3 weeks. It was apparent that Swann would take over at some point, but it was shocking when Lea made the decision after Wright struggled in the loss to Wake Forest. So far, Swann has done everything that could be asked. Swann played great in the limited amount of drives he had against Wake Forest. But it was his first career start against Northern Illinois that was convincing. Swann put up 255 yards with 4 passing touchdowns, and brought the Commodores back from a 14-28 deficit in the third quarter to ultimately win the game. Swann has done a great job in getting WRs Will Sheppard and Jayden McGowan involved, who have also been playing amazing so far. He also just made some amazing plays that Vanderbilt fans have not seen from a QB since Jay Cutler. It is safe to say Swann is the real deal, and he is the future of the QB position at Vanderbilt.
- Second year head coach Clark Lea is clearly trying to build a specific culture for this program. One of the more unfortunate things that happened was two promising players being kicked off the team. Freshman RB Maurice Edwards and Freshman LB Daniel Martin were kicked off of the team after the team returned from Hawaii. Lea did not specify what they did, but he made it clear that they had numerous behavior issues and they did something in Hawaii that was their last straw. Lea also suspended a handful of players for the first 4 games of the season for similar reasons. Among these players were RB Patrick Smith, CB Trudell Berry, WR Gamarion Carter, and WR Daveon Walker. Coach Lea is clearly holding his players to a certain standard, and this is great for the program moving forward.
- The defense has been pretty disappointing in certain areas. The DL has generated very little pressure on QBs. This is partially because top DL Miles Capers suffered a season-ending injury. Freshmen Darren Agu and B.J. Diakite have been bright spots here, but they do not have enough weight yet to be playing consistently. The secondary has also been pretty bad. There have also been some injuries here, with Jaylen Mahoney being out of the past few games, and Trudell Berry being out the first 4 games. There have been several busted coverages and dumb penalties committed by the secondary that will need to be cleaned up. The LBs have been pretty good, particularly Anfernee Orji. Orji leads the team by far with 42 tackles on the season so far. He is an NFL talent for sure. Overall, the defense is going to need to be better if the Commodores want to get their first SEC win since 2019.
- Going into the season, the OL was thought to be the worst position group on the roster by far. However, the OL has been very solid throughout the first 5 games. Both the pass and run blocking have been much better than anticipated. The run blocking has allowed RB Ray Davis to have some very solid performances. The OL will need to continue serviceable play for Vandy to be competitive in the SEC.
Overall, this program still has a LONG way to go before it reaches its goal. But, improvement has definitely been shown from Year 1 to Year 2. The ‘Dores have already surpassed last season’s win total, 2, with 3 wins so far. Last year, they don’t go into Hawaii and slaughter them 63-10. They also don’t go on the road and win that game at Northern Illinois. The only thing they still need for this to be a successful season is one, yes ONE, SEC win. It would be such a huge momentum boost to the program. It has not happened since 2019. We need an SEC win, and this will be a successful season.