Colorado State Football: First Look at the Vanderbilt Commodores
The Rams will host Vanderbilt in their latest clash with an SEC opponent.
Will the ‘Dores emerge from their doldrums?
Colorado State Football: First Looks at Non-Conference Opponents
Colorado State will close out a two-game homestand to begin the 2021 season by hosting the Vanderbilt Commodores on September 11 and, for a team whose goal is to win now, you’d be pressed to find an opponent better suited to absorb a rout.
Vanderbilt, perennial SEC cellar-dwellers, is starting over once again after failing to securing a single winning season in seven years under Derek Mason and collapsing entirely in 2020. For the Rams, then, this becomes a must-win.
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Mascot: Mr. Commodore
2020 Record: 0-9 (0-9 SEC)
Head Coach: Clark Lea (first year). Lea’s predecessor, Derek Mason, couldn’t solve the SEC’s hardest job and paid the ultimate price after an ugly 2020 in which the Commodores were outscored on average by over three touchdowns per game.
It falls to Lea, the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame for three years before coming to Vanderbilt, to fix the moribund program and he’ll get a long leash to do so. Mason, after all, needed three years to earn a bowl bid and eventually got to a second two years later. And before James Franklin’s fleeting successes, the program gave Bobby Johnson eight years to engineer a sustained turnaround.
WR Cam Johnson
Vanderbilt may not have much to offer on offense, but they do have at least one pass catcher who can make some noise. He led the Commodores with 56 catches and 545 receiving yards, which may not sound like much until you consider that volume of receptions is twice as many as any other returning receiver. One way or another, the new staff will find ways to get the ball to the senior from Brentwood, Tennessee.
— Sideline CFB (@SidelineCFB) December 12, 2020
QB Ken Seals
Talk about unenviable situations. Seals started all nine games for Vanderbilt as a true freshman and held his own for the most part, completing 64.6% of his passes for 1,928 and 12 touchdowns against ten interceptions. Considering there isn’t a lot of experience behind him on the roster, Seals could be the steady, if unspectacular, hand the offense needs to help Lea get the team headed in the right direction.
LB Elijah McAllister
McAllister missed 2020 because of injury, but what he flashed in his time as a starter back in 2019 could provide some of the needed foundation for the new 4-2-5 defense. That year, he played the entire season and picked up 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble, providing the kind of disruption from the edge that Vanderbilt will need every ounce of this fall.
RB Re’Mahn Davis
Keyon Henry-Brooks led the Commodores rushing attack in 2020 but decided to hit the transfer portal, leaving the situation up in the air. Davis, who had over 1,100 yards from scrimmage and ten touchdowns for Temple back in 2019, could lead the committee that replaces Henry-Brooks. He’s a bowling ball-type runner at 5-foot-9 and 215 pounds, so the Rams probably won’t enjoy trying to slow him down.
S Dashaun Jerkins
Lea may lean hard on what experienced players remain following the off-season’s turnover and Jerkins is part of that group with fifteen stars for Vanderbilt over the last two years. The senior had 45 tackles, three passes defended and two forced fumbles in 2020, so he could be an opportunist around whom Colorado State will want to be mindful of ball control.
Long-suffering Vanderbilt fans have seen their share of woeful offenses, but the 2020 iteration was especially putrid. They averaged just 4.71 yards per play, dead last in the SEC and 114th nationally, and scored just 148 points per game (“surpassed” by only Bowling Green and Massachusetts). It’s little wonder, then, that Bill Connelly’s SP+ metric projects them 104th overall for 2021.
Like many other teams across the country, though, Vanderbilt will benefit from a good amount of returning production so Lea and offensive coordinator David Raih aren’t starting from scratch. There’s continuity in the passing game with Seals under center and four of 2020’s top five pass catchers — receivers Johnson, Amir Abdur-Rahman, and Chris Pierce Jr., as well as tight end Ben Bresnahan — back for 2021.
The running game remains something of a mystery and the offensive line will need to replace a couple of starters, but the latter concern could be resolved by the return of some athletes who opted out of 2020. At a minimum, they were adequate at keeping Seals on his feet with a sack rate allowed of 6.4%, right around the national average, so they may not have to battle regression to the mean one way or the other.
Vanderbilt’s defense got pummeled early and often in 2020, so the defensive-minded Lea and new coordinator Jesse Minter will be eager to turn the page on a season where the Commodores allowed a 7.28 yards per play, the program’s worst performance since at least 2000, and 37.3 points per game.
Unlike the offense, though, this unit doesn’t have quite as much to offer at first glance. No returning defender had more than 2.5 tackles for loss last year, so one of the top priorities is simply identifying who could cause more consistent havoc. Vanderbilt hit the transfer portal to shore up the ranks, so defensive linemen Alex Williams (Ohio State) and Malik Langham (Florida) could be part of the rotation by the end of fall camp. Alternatively, a rebuilding team might be encouraged to let its youngest stars earn a starting spot, which could be good news for players like De’Rickey Wright and Marcus Bradley, the top recruits from 2020 and 2021, respectively. With so much work to be done, nothing is a given.
Colorado State isn’t without its own flaws heading into 2021, but losing to a team like Vanderbilt would be an extremely unfortunate turn of events for Steve Addazio, who needs all the momentum he can get for his experienced Rams to make a run at the Mountain West crown. In the end, whatever victory CSU earns may not come with a lot of pizzazz, but that won’t matter too much.
Colorado State 24, Vanderbilt 14