VolQuest - SCOUTING THE OPPONENT: Vanderbilt
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SCOUTING THE OPPONENT: Vanderbilt

It’s been a particularly unusual college football offseason, but with the recent news that Tennessee players will return to campus this month and start voluntary workouts on June 8, there’s real optimism that a season will still happen despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we do each year, here’s a brief snapshot of Tennessee’s 12 opponents for the fall. We conclude the preseason preview series with a look at the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Vanderbilt — Nov. 28

2019 Record: 3-9

Head Coach: Derek Mason

2020 OUTLOOK

Long seem the days when Derek Mason boldly declared, ‘This is Our State!’ after beating Tennessee in the regular-season finale in 2016.

The Commodores have taken a big step back of late, missing a bowl game two of the last three seasons including a dud a of a 3-9 campaign in 2019.

They lost six games by more than three touchdowns last fall, and it’s hard to pinpoint the worst one: A 56-0 shellacking at Florida? A 34-10 home loss to a 1-5 UNLV team? Giving up 66 points to LSU? Losing by 24 at Ole Miss, a team that fired its coach?

Overall, it was a bad, bad season for Vandy.

Without quarterback Kyle Shurmur, the ‘Dores couldn’t take advantage of some legitimate offensive weapons (tailback Ke’Shawn Vaughn, tight end Jared Pinkney and wideout Kalija Lipscomb), finishing last in the SEC in points per game (just 16.5), yards per play (4.78) and total offense. Vandy’s defense was just as bad, ranking (again) last in the conference in yards per play allowed (6.57). It also allowed 31.8 points per game, second only to Arkansas.

Mason is clearly on the thin ice entering his seventh season in Nashville. After garnering the support of his bosses, it’s unclear where Mason stands now that Vandy’s AD resigned after just a year on the job and there’s a new administration in town.

Mason fired both coordinators during the offseason, and Todd Fitch becomes his third OC in three years. Fitch, formally the longtime lieutenant of Skip Holtz who piloted a Louisiana Tech offense to 32.5 points per game last season, faces the tough task of defibrillating a morbid offense that’s set to start a quarterback without any meaningful experience and a dearth of skill-position talent.

The ‘Dores lost four quarterbacks off the roster (one to graduation, three to transfer portal) with only freshman Ken Seals and JUCO Jeremy Moussa remaining. Top wideout CJ Bolar transferred out, as did their best offensive lineman (Devin Cochran to Georgia Tech). Their top returning playmakers are redshirt sophomore Cam Johnson, the only player back with more than 14 catches in 2019, and sophomore tailback Keyon Brooks, who had just 56 carries last season. Many programs were hit hard by the COVID-19 storage, but perhaps no SEC offense was hurt more by a lack of spring practice than Vandy’s.

Defensively, veteran coordinator Ted Roof steps in after a year at App. State, and unlike Fitch, inherits a veteran group. Vandy returns 10 starters on defense, led by linebacker Dimitri Moore, the team’s leading tackler with 99, and senior interior lineman Dayo Odeyingbo (12.5 tackles for loss).

Roof is looking to make that experience count though, with Vandy needing to create more negative plays (13th in sacks, 12th in TFLs) and get off the field on third downs (11th in the SEC).

2020 SCHEDULE
SEPT. 5 MERCER

SEPT. 12

@ MISSOURI

SEPT. 19

@ KANSAS STATE

SEPT. 26

COLORADO STATE

OCT. 3

@ GEORGIA

OCT. 10

OLE MISS

OCT. 17

@ KENTUCKY

OCT. 24

OPEN

OCT. 31

SOUTH CAROLINA

NOV. 7

FLORIDA

NOV. 14

@ TEXAS A&M

NOV. 21

LOUSIANA TECH

NOV. 28

TENNESSEE

NOTABLE NEW ADDITIONS

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1. Vandy’s quarterback situation was a disaster in 2019, with four guys taking snaps and combining for as many touchdowns (10) as interceptions and averaged a ghastly 5.4 yards per attempt. But Riley Neal (graduated), Mo Hasan (USC), Deuce Wallace (portal) and Allan Walters (portal) are all gone, so Seals, a 3-star from Texas is the favorite to win the job this fall. Vandy actually signed three quarterbacks in the 2020 class: Seals, Moussa and 4-star Atlanta native Michael Wright. Seals, who threw for 33 touchdowns on 3,060 yards and added seven rushing scores, enrolled early, but with no spring practice, the 6-3, 200-pound quarterback was unable to get a true handle on the job.

2. Vandy sadly lost a member of its football support staff to cancer late last month. Defensive assistant Osia Lewis, an original member of Mason’s 2016 staff as his outside linebackers coach, passed away on May 31 at the age of 57. Lewis had a long battle with liver cancer, stepping away from full-time duties in 2017. A former team captain at Oregon State, Lewis remained a part-time defensive assistant for Mason the last three seasons.

3. The ‘Dores had a tough time getting in the end zone much at all last season, but still, they return just five total touchdowns from their entire group of playmakers from 2019. Five.

4. Vandy inked the nation’s 49th class in 2020. Seals, former Alabama safety commit De’Rickey Wright and 4-star defensive back Donovan Kaufman were the three headliners among the 19 signees. The ‘Dores also added five transfers but most (like former Ohio State end Alex Williams or Michigan guard Stephen Spanellis) have yet to receiver waivers for immediate eligibility. Ex-Columbia kicker Oren Milstein (20 of 26 on field goals in his career) is good to go as a grad transfer.

5. There’s not much confidence coming out of sportsbooks on Vandy’s ability to return to bowl eligibility in 2020. The ‘Dores have a win total at 3.0 — despite seven home games and avoiding three of the toughest teams in the SEC West (Alabama, LSU and Auburn). ESPN’S FPI has Vandy as favorites in just three games — none in the SEC — and two are essentially toss-ups (vs. Colorado State, 53.4% and Louisiana Tech, 53.0%).