Vanderbilt’s season opener will look different than others, and that’s not just because of COVID-19 restrictions.
A new quarterback and new assistant coaches will debut in Saturday’s game (6:30 p.m., SEC Network Alternate) at No. 11 Texas A&M. Here are five things to watch in this road contest to start a 10-game, conference-only schedule:
New QB must find success, confidence
Vanderbilt hasn’t announced its new starting quarterback among four newcomers vying for the spot — junior college transfers Danny Clark and Jeremy Moussa and freshmen Ken Seals and Mike Wright. The starter will face a tough task, running a new up-tempo offense and playing behind a depleted offensive line.
A steady run game with Jamauri Wakefield, Keyon Brooks and Ja’Veon Marlow would help. High-percentage passes to Cam Johnson and company could create a rhythm. If Vanderbilt can exit this game with confidence in its quarterback, it will check an important box in a season of questions.
New offense is supposed to look different
New coordinator Todd Fitch has implemented an offense that’s advertised as being fast and fun. It’s debatable whether Vanderbilt has the personnel to move the ball with an up-tempo passing attack, but it couldn’t do much worse than last season’s averages of 299.3 yards of total offense and 16.5 points per game.]
The up-tempo offense must pick up first downs. If not, it will chew up very little clock and put the Vanderbilt defense on the field for long stretches. There are questions whether this offense will look different or if it will retreat to a conservative approach to aid the defense.
Defense is experienced, but incomplete
According to the depth chart, new defensive coordinator Ted Roof will run a 3-4 scheme. But don’t be surprised if a 4-3 scheme is also used, and a nickel package should come into play against dynamic Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond. Defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo and others must create a pass rush, regardless of the alignment
There have been reasons to believe Vanderbilt’s defense could be solid, but that possibility has waned lately. Initially, the Commodores were set to return all 11 starters on defense, but four of those players will not be available.
Linebacker Feleti Afemui opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. Safety Tae Daley recently entered the transfer portal. Cornerback B.J. Anderson is injured. And defensive tackle Drew Birchmeier moved to offensive guard.