Hawaii vs. Vanderbilt: Get To Know The Commodores
A looooong trip for Vanderbilt
SEC team coming to the islands
Hawaii opens up its season at home in Week 0 and they get to host an SEC team in the Vanderbilt Commodores. This is a game the Warriors as just around a touchdown home underdog — the line has varied between 6.5 and eight points.
This is a game that is a very good test for new Hawaii head coach Timmy Chang to get his feet wet. It will not be an easy matchup with SEC talent and the Warriors rebuilding with a first-team head coach and a roster that lost a lot to the transfer portal.
— What does starting quarterback Mike Wright bring to this Vanderbilt team and who is expected to be on the receiving end of his passes?
Wright is blazing fast (he ran a 10.8 in the 100 meters in high school) and is the emotional leader of the team. He’s capable of making big plays with his feet and his arm but his accuracy is a huge question coming into the season.
— What are the expectations this year for the Commodores?
Most Vegas win totals are around 2.5 wins and I’d say that’s not far off. Derek Mason left behind a flaming dumpster fire in many ways, not the least of which was talent( Vandy had nobody picked in last year’s NFL Draft, and just two players invited to camps) and so it’ll take coach Clark Lea a couple of years to recover from that.
The team is more talented and Lea seems to be doing a better job of developing players, and I expect it will be noticeably better. But the schedule is brutal, and so I could be correct and the ‘Dores could still be 3-9.
— Who are the most important players on this team?
Wright, Sheppard, and Ray Davis on offense. Davis is a very talented running back who missed almost last year due to health.
On defense, linebacker Anfernee Orji is widely considered the team’s best player, but LB/S De’Rickey Wright may be its most talented, and safety Jaylen Mahoney was probably the defense’s best player in both spring and fall camps.
— How important is this game for Vanderbilt’s success in 2022?
It’s enormous. The Commodores have a 21-game Southeastern Conference losing streak and in last year’s opener, laid a major egg in a 23-3 loss to East Tennessee State, which was the first game after a winless 2020 season. As bad as things have been at Vanderbilt for decades, going winless and losing to an FCS team were firsts.
As a result, a cloud of negativity hangs over the program and fan engagement is at an all-time low. The Commodores need to get a win early and if they can’t beat a rebuilding Hawaii team, it’s tough to look down the schedule and see any success past the Elon game next week.
— Hawaii is expected to throw the ball a lot under new head coach Timmy Chang. How does Vanderbilt expect to attack/defend that type of game plan?
I think Vandy’s secondary is going to be a lot better. Mahoney has a shot to be an NFL Draft pick, safety Max Worship had a good camp and Wright is a super-talented player who can cover and make things happen. Mahoney and Worship are seniors as is starter BJ Anderson, who’s healthy after missing almost all the last two years with injury. There’s some experience and depth behind those guys too.
The key may be generating a pass rush, which was non-existent last year and the prospect doesn’t look much better there this season.
— How do you see this game playing out?
I think based on experience and a perceived edge at skill position talent, Vanderbilt should win. My prediction is 37-24, but as last year’s opener proved (Vandy was about a 20-point favorite in that one) this team can take nothing for granted.
The key for Vandy will be winning or breaking even in turnover margin, and having Wright complete enough throws to keep the chains moving and keeping the defense off the field. My guess is you’ll see a run-heavy approach from the Commodores, with Davis getting a lot of carries and several short targets, too.