Vanderbilt has to play Alabama this week. Let’s therefore focus on what VU did this past weekend against Northern Illinois for a moment. The Commodores, trailing 28-14 in the third quarter, could have crumbled. The team could have splintered or, at the very least, lost hope. It did not.
By Matt Zemek
Say this much for head coach Clark Lea: He has his players believing in each other and trusting each other. That’s important as a building block for a cultural change. Vanderbilt still doesn’t look like it is talented or imposing enough to make a bowl game, if we are being brutally honest, but with two wins in the bank, and given how this team has responded to moments of adversity in both the Hawaii and Northern Illinois games, it is certainly not out of the question to think this group is capable of getting to six wins. Florida is a mess. Missouri is in real deep trouble. South Carolina is not playing particularly well. If the ceiling for this team is five wins, that means six wins – while unlikely – is not out of the realm of possibility. It’s too early in the season to give up on that aspiration, especially coming off a win in which VU scored 24 straight points to complete a second-half comeback on the road.
Let’s now turn back to Alabama and see what really matters for the Dores in this game:
1 – Learn
It might sound overly simple and cliché, but teams which are expected to struggle must learn as many lessons as possible when going up against Goliath. Losing isn’t fun, and Vanderbilt is almost certain to lose this game, but gaining a true education from the Crimson Tide is important. Seeing how Alabama operates, studying how the Crimson Tide go about their business, and understanding what makes Bama so good are all parts of a process Vanderbilt players and coaches can use to self-evaluate. This can make the Dores better as the 2022 season goes along. Losing this game is not a waste if it leads to real improvement throughout the roster and coaching staff.
2 – Fourth downs and risk-taking
Vanderbilt is likely to get demolished no matter what. The Dores might as well be extra bold in going for it on fourth downs. Create an expectation and a mindset which says that VU is going to go for the brass ring. Players are going to be challenged to make plays and set a higher standard, both for themselves and each other as teammates. This is not a game in which to play it safe. If failure means losing by 50 instead of 30, that’s not an embarrassment for Vanderbilt. It would magnify the extent to which this team must improve. An aggressive 50-point loss would not only be more admirable than a cautious and passive 30-point loss; it might elicit more information which helps this team to grow in the months ahead.
3 – 1-on-1 downfield coverage
One of the noticeable things about Alabama in 2022 is that its receivers have not made a hugely significant imprint on the season as of yet. This group was contained by Texas’s cornerbacks and safeties. If Vanderbilt’s corners can hang with Alabama’s receivers on the outside, this game might become a little more interesting. Alabama’s offense would not be able to easily move the ball down the field. If VU can draw even in this matchup, that could be a confidence builder for future weeks.