The Vanderbilt Commodores begin their second season under head coach Clark Lea. Year 1 was an education for the former Notre Dame defensive coordinator, who gave up a prominent position at a College Football Playoff program to take on one of the toughest jobs in college football, and easily the toughest job in the SEC.
By Matt Zemek
In 2022, we’re going to learn a lot more about Lea as a head coach. How is he able to elevate the Vanderbilt football product? How does he develop the players he is bringing into the program? How will he adjust to both the limitations and the potential of his personnel? How will he use a full offseason of study to better prepare for opponents? Are we going to see stagnation or improvement? The journey begins on the island this weekend with a trip to Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors have gone through a very stormy period in their history under disgraced ex-coach Todd Graham. Their program is operating on a very small budget. Their longtime home, Aloha Stadium, is going to be demolished.
VU will not be intimidated by the crowd this Saturday, because there won’t be a large one for this game. Hawaii coach Timmy Chang, a former quarterback at the school, ushers in a new era of Hawaii football history. There are so many uncertainties in this game. College football diehards can’t wait to see what happens as the season begins. Let’s look at the keys for the Commodores:
1 – Establish physical dominance
Hawaii had a weak defense last season. It’s personnel are not physically imposing. The most direct path to victory for Vanderbilt, also the most encouraging sign for the Dores this season, would be if they could pound the rock and overwhelm Hawaii. That would be the surest sign that the Vanderbilt program has a new look, a new attitude, and a much better chance of accomplishing something in 2022.
2 – Secondary is primary
Hawaii is going to throw the ball around the yard and spread out the VU defense. This is not going to be old-fashioned power football from the Rainbow Warriors’ side of this matchup. Whether it’s guarding quick-hitting wide receiver screens and slant passes, or downfield throws set up by short passes, the Vanderbilt secondary will need to be on its toes. Hawaii doesn’t have an elite passing game, but in Week 1, miscommunications can occur. Let’s see if the Dores can be airtight and disciplined in a season-opening game. If they are, it will speak well of Lea’s ability to cultivate the right focus and mindset among his players.
3 – 3rd and 6
There will be at least a few occasions when the Vanderbilt offense faces 3rd and 6. Chances are the Dores will need to convert a reasonable percentage of these third-and-medium situations. In Week 1, far away from home, the Vanderbilt defense might get exhausted if the offense can’t keep the ball. That point aside, the margin for error decreases if VU has to settle for field goals and can’t wear down Hawaii’s defense. Converting at least half of all 3rd and 4 to 3rd and 6 situations (we’re going to put 3rd and 8 or 9 in a separate, less essential category) will likely be important for VU on Saturday.
The Vanderbilt’s game with Hawai’i kicks off at 9:30 CT. You can watch this game on the CBS Sports Network.