Home openers, all-black uniform combinations, and weather delays. These three things all rolled into one usually give Vanderbilt fans flashbacks. Could Vanderbilt keep the win streak going and avoid the pitfalls of previous teams?
Mike Wright is Better than Advertised
“The Mike Wright Show” continues on West End. As well noted, there have been a lot of question marks surrounding the arm talent of Wright. Through two games, Wright might not be a great passer, but he has shown that he can deliver big-time passes in big-time spots, which coupled with his legs, is a dangerous duo. Wright threw eighteen completions on twenty-nine attempts for 245 yards, four touchdowns, and most importantly, no turnovers. That sort of stat line will win you games not just against FCS opponents, but FBS as well.
Tonight against Elon, Mike showed that he can stand in the pocket and deliver the deep ball. In fact, he did it twice. In the first quarter, Mike Wright and the Vanderbilt offense drew defenders offsides and had a free play. Streaking down the Vanderbilt sideline was freshman receiver, Jayden McGowan. Wright delivers a beautiful ball to the speedy freshman for a 75-yard touchdown.
In the second quarter, Wright delivers a 26-yard pass to Will Sheppard on a deep post for a touchdown. Not only did Wright get it done with his arm tonight, but of course, he got it done with his legs as well. Wright carried it eleven times for 84 yards and two touchdowns.
Tonight, Mike Wright became the first quarterback in Vanderbilt history to record six touchdowns in a single game and the first Vanderbilt quarterback to throw for four touchdowns in a game since the late, great, Kyler Shurmur in 2017.
Defense Bends but Doesn’t Break
The Vanderbilt defense was certainly tested against Elon. The defense allowed not just 31 points but 343 yards through the air and 152 yards on the ground. Often the Vandy was bleeding by way of a thousand paper cuts. The defense did give up its fair share of big plays, most notably what seemed to be a busted coverage play in the first quarter where Elon quarterback Matthew McKay connected with Chandler Brayboy through the air for a 75-yard touchdown.
The Vanderbilt defense was dinked and dunked seemingly into oblivion for most of the night and they seem to be okay with allowing short yardage gains if that means that they keep everything in front of them and not allow explosive plays.
This strategy might seem nice on the surface, allowing small plays to prevent the big one, but strategy allowed for Elon to hog the ball and accumulate almost ten more minutes of time of possession at 34:29 to Vanderbilts 25:31. Nine more minutes of possession might not seem like a big deal, but to a team like Vanderbilt where you do not have the depth of other teams, it can make a massive difference.
Head coach Clark Lea stated frustration regarding defensive rotation in his post-game press conference stating that leaving the starters in too long “wore them down” and that is partially the reason for some of the big plays the secondary allowed. Could better rotation of the defensive side help prevent some of the plays that were let up? Certainty, but the defensive philosophy of having defensive backs play five to seven yards off of the line of scrimmage will wear down any defense no matter how well you rotate.
Nevertheless, the defense still showed grit in the redone when it mattered. With a little over two minutes left in the game, the Vanderbilt defense found themselves backed up on their 2-yard line. Vanderbilt forced an incomplete pass and then stuffed the Elon offense on three straight runs to seal the game for the Commodores.
Special Teams Giveth and Special Teams Taketh
Vanderbilt fans got a good look at what punter Matt Hayball brings to the table. The Australian punter showed that he can boom it and has impressive precision. Hayball averaged 49.4 yards a punt with a long of 57 yards.
Unfortunately, Vanderbilt’s special team units did not help out Hayball or kicker Joseph Bulovas. The unit struggled with lane integrity, often allowing big returns that gave the Phoenix optimal field position.
The most unfortunate instance on the special teams unit tonight came on an onside kick. Elon attempted an onside kick after Will Sheppard failed to secure the football and lost control of it, leading to an Elon recovery that could have proved costly in the fourth quarter.
Vanderbilt Looks to Wake Forest
Vanderbilt has a tough opponent coming to the Music City next week as they face off against Wake Forest. Kickoff will be at 11am at First Bank Stadium next Saturday.
MVPs of Week One:
Offense: Mike Wright
Passing: 18/29 for 245 yards; 4 touchdowns
Rushing: 11 carries for 84 yards; 2 touchdowns
Defense: Anfernee Orji
13 total tackles; 5 solo tackles
0.5 tackles for loss
1 QB hurry