UGASports - Scouting the opponent: Taking a look at Vanderbilt
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Scouting the opponent: Taking a look at Vanderbilt

Head Coach: Clark Lea (1st season)

2020 Record: 0-9, 0-9

Returning Starters: Offense (8) Defense (6)

Vs Georgia: Sept 25 in Nashville

Players to Watch: QB Ken Seals, RB Re’Mahn Davis, WR Cam Johnson, WR Amir Abdur-Rahman, WR Chris Pierce, TE Ben Bresnahan, DT Rashaan Wilkins, LB Andree Orjil, CB Allen George, S. Maxwell Worship.

Former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea is the new head coach at Vanderbilt.
Former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea is the new head coach at Vanderbilt. (Associated Press)

Outlook

Derek Mason ultimately could not get it done. Enter Vanderbilt alumnus and former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea to try his luck.

Obviously, there is much to do.

Vanderbilt went winless (0-9) last year, and while that probably will not happen this fall, Lea certainly has his work cut out.

The Commodores are at least offensively going to try and make it more exciting for their fans, as new offensive coordinator David Raith looks to implement a “pro spread.” After finishing 13th in the SEC in total offense and last in scoring offense, it certainly does not hurt to attempt a change.

Sophomores Ken Seals and Mike Wright are expected to battle for the starting job at quarterback, while Temple transfer Re’Mahn Davis figures to be the top man in the backfield after rushing for 936 yards in 2019 as a freshman for the Owls.

The Commodores actually have a decent corps of receivers with returning starters Cam Johnson (56 catches for 545 yards, three touchdowns), Amir Abdur-Rahman (27-406) and Chris Pierce Jr. (25-371). Tight end Ben Bresnahan (28-300) also had a surprisingly good year.

Up front, however, there are big-time concerns as the Commodores hope four former starters who sat out last year due to Covid are able get back in the groove.

The news isn’t any better on defense. Vanderbilt ranked near the bottom of the SEC in scoring defense and total defense, and don’t return much to speak of this fall.

Five Questions

• Will the Commodores go wineless in 2021? Probably not. You’d think the opener against ETSU will be on the Commodores can put in the left-hand column, and the Week 2 game at Colorado State would seem to be winnable. After that … Vanderbilt hosts Stanford in Week 3 for what will be an interesting non-conference matchup, before embarking on the SEC portion of their schedule, which does not figure to see the Commodores favored in either of their eight conference games.

• What changes will Coach Lea make to the defense? Even with an overall lack of talent, the Commodores are going to switch to a 4-2-5 defense, which more and more seems to be the defense of choice for teams in the SEC?

• Can quarterback Ken Seals take the next step? Seals still has to beat out fellow sophomore Mike Wright for the starting job, although he did show some positive signs as a true freshmen. Seals threw for 1,928 yards and 12 touchdowns but will need to cut down on the 10 interceptions. He did complete 64 percent of his passes.

Who steps up at running back? Commodores lost Keyon Henry-Brooks (120-494) to the transfer portal but dipped into the portal themselves to bring in former Temple running back Re’Mahn Davis. As a freshman, Davis led the Owls in rushing with 936 yards as a freshman in 2019.

• Do the Commodores have a kicker? We all know the fun the Commodores had there in 2020. It shouldn’t be so bad in 2021, however, with the arrival of former Alabama kicker Joseph Bulovas.

2021 Schedule
Date Opponent Site

Sept. 4

ETSU

Nashville

Sept. 11

at Colorado State

Fort Collins, Colo.

Sept. 18

Stanford

Nashville

Sept. 25

Georgia

Nashville

Oct. 2

Connecticut

Nashville

Oct. 9

at Florida

Gainesville, Fla.

Oct. 16

at South Carolina

Columbia, S.C.

Oct. 23

Mississippi State

Nashville

Oct. 30

Missouri

Nashville

Nov. 13

Kentucky

Nashville

Nov. 20

Ole Miss

Oxford, Miss.

Nov. 27

at Tennessee

Knoxville, Tenn.

Five questions with Chris Lee of VandySports.com

What's been your biggest impression of Coach Lea?

Lee: It's easy to see why he was hired. The inside whispers were that baseball coach Tim Corbin had more influence on the hire than anyone. It's certainly not a bad starting point— the coach who took over a program that was about as bad as the football program was making a recommendation, especially when Corbin has known Lea for roughly 17 years.

"Lea is going to take a page out of Corbin's playbook, for sure. And what that means is that he'll run a disciplined operation where details matter, things that were missing during Derek Mason's tenure.

"Lea has also been clear that, while Vanderbilt wants to win as much as it can now, it will not take any path that trades long-term success for short-term fixes. For instance, I think you'll see Vanderbilt focus more on high school recruiting and developing those players than looking for transfers.

"Lea isn't charismatic, but he's sincere, conscientious, and likable, and those things should help in recruiting as well as within building relationships at the school and with fans."

How big is this "rebuild" as compared to other recent ones?

Lee: "With the exception of what Mason inherited (and that got destroyed pretty quickly), it's always a massive rebuild at Vanderbilt.

"Sure Vandy was competitive in a few of its losses last year, but there was no doubt the Commodores were the worst team on the field in every game last year. But there are two differences from this one—one good, one bad—and that might make this a little different.

"There were all kinds of issues related to morale that can simply be summed up by the feeling that whatever the school's goals last year, they weren't first about on-field success—and that took a toll. Vanderbilt's always had an issue with players losing interest in football and just trying to hang on to get their degrees, but after last season, you saw a bunch of players who just wanted out. (Back to talent, it was telling that Grant Miller, who landed at Baylor, was the only player to markedly improve his situation.)

"That said, everyone didn't leave on their own, and that speaks to Lea addressing some discipline issues he inherited.

"To the good, the school has actually made a significant financial commitment to facilities—certainly not up to standards at places like Georgia or Alabama, but light-years ahead of where Vanderbilt's been.

"And so that'll be something that'll make it easier for Lea to sell the program. But make no mistake, the Commodores aren't going anywhere in the ballpark of bowl contention for 2021, and even 2022 might be a stretch."

Offensively, what kind of changes does new OC David Raih have in store, and how much more effective can Vandy be this fall?

Lee: "It's hard to say; I think Vanderbilt wants to run more of a pro-style offense, and Lea's said that running the ball should be an emphasis. However, the 'Dores used three-wide sets in the spring, and they've got a pass-catching tight end in Georgia native Ben Bresnahan, too.

"The parts on offense are certainly better than on defense. Vanderbilt has good, young quarterback and leader in Ken Seals, some competent receivers, a ton of returning linemen with some experience, and a good start on the running game with the transfer in of Temple's Re'Mahn Davis, a former freshman All-American."

How would you describe last year for the Commodores?

Lee: "If I told the whole truth, most people wouldn't believe it. Zero and 10 was bad, but the issues off the field, which started before the season and got worse during it, may have been worse.

COVID-19 was the official explanation as to why Vanderbilt couldn't play Georgia last year. But by that point, the roster had already been depleted for other reasons, and that outbreak was really no more than the final straw that left the 'Dores with fewer players than it needed to play."

Considering last year's cancellation with Georgia, how do you see this year's game going down?

Lee: "The Commodores may be able to build a little confidence with possible wins over ETSU and Colorado State coming in, and perhaps it's better to play the game early in the year, since the 'Dores are going to be thin in some spots.

"However, the talent discrepancy between the programs is possibly as large as it's been in 20 years or so, and the cancellation of Georgia's Senior Day will provide a little motivation for the Bulldogs this year. I do think Lea will make a difference this year, but it might be too much to ask for Vandy to compete for more than a half."