Vanderbilt welcomed Sam Hartman to a rainy Nashville this Saturday. Vanderbilt and its fans had high hopes for the team going into the week two matchup but things went against Vanderbilt early and often today as they dropped their first game of the season.
The offense Sputters for Four Quarters
Today was a tough day for the Vanderbilt offense. There was general optimism that Vanderbilt could score points and sustain drives against Wake Forest. During the 2021 season, Wake Forest had the 88th overall defense and allowed an average of 413 yards a game. But, today the Vanderbilt offense could find no success. Quarterback Mike Wright had his worst game of the season where he threw for a total of 35 yards with eight competitions on fifteen attempts. Wright also had his first turnover of the season on an ill-advised throw while being under pressure and recorded one fumble. Wright’s legs were ineffective today as well where Wright ran it eight times and only recorded seventeen yards on the ground.
The offensive play calling was something of a conundrum today. Vanderbilt found success running the ball north and south today with Re’Mahn Davis but was quick to abandon it. What had worked for Vanderbilt in the past two weeks was rarely tried today against Wake Forest. Designed runs for Wright were rarely called and there were almost no designed plays for Jayden McGowan today who only had one sweep for a gain of four yards. Lack of continuity in the offensive play calling doomed Vanderbilt from the start. Vandy could not sustain any momentum and was suffering from drives and was losing the time of possession battle for the majority of the game.
Defense Not as Bad as Stats Suggest
The Vanderbilt defense had the tall task of taking on Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman and the slow mesh offensive scheme. Hartman was 18-27 and threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns but twenty-one points came off of turnovers which happened deep in Vanderbilt territory.
The Vanderbilt defense did show some positives, particularly on the goal line. The defense had a few stops on the goal line and prevented Wake Forest from increasing its lead in critical moments.
What will help the defense the most is getting healthy upfront. The slow mesh scheme of Wake Forest was nearly impossible for Vanderbilt to stop because Vanderbilt had real difficulty getting pressure up the middle. Vanderbilt also struggled to get edge pressure and could not force Wake Forest and Hartman into making any mistakes. The lack of pressure from the defensive front allowed Hartman and the Wake Forest backfield too much time to let the play develop before pulling and handing the ball off.
The back half of the defense was still very concerning. You would like to give them the benefit of the doubt given that they are going up against a proven offense but what many thought would be the strength of this defense has not shown up yet. During his tenure at Notre Dame, head coach Clark Lea’s defensive style was more about protecting against chunk plays than it was forcing turnovers. This has translated to the Vanderbilt defense and Nick Howell where Vanderbilt likes to play more conservatively with its secondary off of the line of scrimmage. The cushion off the line plus the lack of pass rush from the front half of the Vanderbilt defense is a recipe for disaster. Vanderbilt allowed comeback route after comeback route this afternoon and they could not stop it. Until the defense gets healthy, if Vanderbilt wants to prevent teams from marching down the field at will then they must be more aggressive in the secondary.
AJ Swann Impresses
Vanderbilt had to change some things on offense to get some momentum going. So, Clark Lea opts to bring in freshman quarterback AJ Swann. Swann was impressive in his outing this afternoon. Swann was 8-11 for 146 yards and 2 touchdowns on the afternoon. Swann showed good arm action and a nice touch on his throws. It should be noted that Swann was going up against the second and third-string Wake Forest defense so take what you saw with a grain of salt. I fully expect Mike Wright to be the starter next weekend against Northern Illinois. Nevertheless, it was nice to see who we expect to be the future quarterback of Vanderbilt have a solid outing in his limited action.
MVPs of Week Two
18 carries for 87 yards, 1 touchdown
11 tackles, 5 solo