What a difference a year makes. After the disappointing home blowout loss to FCS opponent ETSU in the first game last year, Vanderbilt football fans were wondering if they were starting down the barrel of another winless season. This time, after a predictably slow start, the Commodores left no doubt about picking up their first win in rolling to a 63-10 victory over Hawaii. Fans can pooh-pooh the Rainbow Warriors all they want – and make no mistake this is a bad team – but Vandy has played some really bad teams over the years and not made this kind of statement. You have to go all the way back to 1969 for the last time a Vandy team scored this many points. That’s longer than I’ve been alive, and I’m not exactly a spring chicken.
And now Coach Lea and his team turn their attention to Elon, who comes to town for a 6:00 kickoff Saturday in the Commodores’ home opener at Vanderbilt Stadium… excuse me, FirstBank Stadium. This will be the first game for the Phoenix, who didn’t play in Week Zero like Vandy. While this would seemingly give Elon an advantage in game preparation, it frankly shouldn’t matter. Repeating last week’s record-breaking performance is a tall ask. Nevertheless, the result should remain a relatively easy Commodore victory.
Elon was a decent FCS team last season, finishing 6-5 but missing out on the postseason. They were 5-3 in conference to finish a respectable third in the Colonial Athletic Association. Heading into this season, Elon was picked to finish sixth in the CAA by league coaches and media relations directors.
On offense, Elon loses their star quarterback Davis Cheek. His replacement will almost certainly be Montana State transfer Matthew McKay, who had tremendous success at the FCS power finishing with a record of 9-2 with 17 touchdowns and 3 interceptions after playing his first couple of seasons at NC State. The Phoenix should be strong at receiver, returning three of their top five, headlined by All-CAA Jackson Parham. Elon finished last in the CAA with 90.4 yards per game and lost their top tailback Jalen Thomas. His role looks to be filled by Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hampton. While reports are Hampton has looked great in practice, expect the Phoenix to rely far more heavily on their passing attack than trying to run the ball.
On defense, the good news for Elon is they return nine starters. The bad news is this was a unit that was among the worst in their conference, giving up an average of 26.1 points and 379 yards per game. The unit is headlined by FCS Preseason All-American safety Cole Coleman. I don’t know that the Commodores will rush for over 400 yards again, but they should be able to consistently move the ball.
As mentioned before, Vandy looked completely unprepared in last season’s opener against an FCS opponent. It would be very surprising to see Clark Lea and his team have that happen again. Barring a total implosion, Vandy should take care of business Saturday evening to go 2-0.