The host Vanderbilt Commodores, intent on ending a 10-game losing streak, are set to open their 2021 season on Saturday night against the East Tennessee State Buccaneers.
Vanderbilt is a 22-point favorite.
Ironically, the last time Vandy won a game was against East Tennessee State — on Nov. 23, 2019.
Ex-Vandy fullback Clark Lea is the new Commodores coach, and he has zero experience at the top job. For the past three years, he was Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator.
“I’m definitely pulling from all the learning I’ve done in my career,” said Lea, a 38-year-old Nashville native, “and also relying on instinct and on the pulse of the team, too.”
Lea inherits a team that is coming off the first winless season (0-9) in program history. The Vandy defense last year was often whipped at the point of attack, which is why the Commodores allowed an average of 191 rushing yards per game.
In addition, Vandy — which allowed 37.3 points per game — couldn’t consistently overload the box because the Commodores lacked back-end speed to stop play-action passes.
Offensively, the picture is brighter. Sophomore quarterback Ken Seals broke several Vandy freshman records. At running back, Temple transfer Re’Mahn Davis rushed for 936 yards and a 4.8 average with the Owls in 2019. Davis also had a 46-yard TD run in Vandy’s spring game this past April.
Senior wide receiver Cam Johnson may be the most talented player on Vandy’s team, and Ben Bresnahan is among the SEC’s best tight ends.
Meanwhile, East Tennessee State coach Randy Sanders announced on Monday that Tyler Riddell will be the starting quarterback.
This will be Riddell’s fourth career start. So far, the third-year collegian is 2-1 as a starter.
“I expect (Riddell) to play well on Saturday,” Sanders said. “Tyler gives us the best chance to win.”
Riddell was 2-1 as a starter this spring, and, as a team, the Bucs went 3-2.
During the spring, Riddell completed 50-of-82 passes for 575 yards and three touchdowns. His best performance came in a 28-21 win over The Citadel as Riddell threw two TD passes.
In that 2019 Bucs-Commodores game, Vandy prevailed 38-0 as Riddell came off the bench to complete just 1 of 5 passes for 18 yards.
–Field Level Media