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2022 Alabama Football Early Opponent Preview: No. 10 Vanderbilt

BamaCentral takes a long first look at each of the Crimson Tide's upcoming opponents this season, in order from the bottom to the top.

It’s been a long time since Vanderbilt defeated Alabama.

So long, that a lot of folks walking the Earth today weren’t born, including the current Crimson Tide roster--heck, including Nick Saban’s first Alabama roster from 2007. A good portion of the ones that were around have since passed away.

The 1984 loss to the Commodores was so long ago, nearly 40 years. It’s hard to imagine a Crimson Tide program from any era falling to Vandy--it’s happened 18 times, including four ties.

How about this year?

The idea of Vanderbilt leaving Bryant-Denny Stadium in September with its 19th career win over Alabama is right up there with the belief that soccer will overtake football in popularity in the U.S.—ain't gonna happen.

The Commodores have run aground since James Franklin left the program in 2013—it's last winning season. There doesn’t appear to be any high tide on the horizon to set them afloat either.

The SEC’s doormat has just three winning seasons since the Alabama win in 1984 and just six in the last 60 years.

Second-year head coach Clark Lea is going to do his best to improve on his 2-10 debut, but it’s going to be rough sailing. The good news? The only way to go is up.

Offense

One plus for Vandy is at quarterback. Mike Wright (1,042 yards) took control in the second half of the season as starter Ken Seals (1,118) dealt with a hand injury. Wright has a slight advantage with his running ability, but Seals is the more efficient passer.

Speaking of running, Vandy was abysmal in 2021 on the ground, rushing for 1,479 yards for 3.5 yards per carry. Re’Mahn Davis (211 yards) missed most of last season with a foot injury and should be in the rotation. Rocko Griffin (517), the team’s leading rusher, is back, as is Patrick Smith (360).

Will Sheppard (577 yards) is the biggest returner at receiver. Devin Bodie (263) will get a shot for more playing time. Ben Bresnahan is also back after missing time with an injury.

The offense has to see improvement in both phases. It’s hard to get much worse than ranking 118 in the nation in total offense last season.

It’s going to be hard to get better with a questionable offensive line. Vandy lost one starter (Tyler Steen) to Alabama and two others (Cole Clemens and Michael Warden) to graduation. There is work to do on the line with several spots up for grabs when fall rolls around.

Defense

Like the offense, the defense ranked 118th in the nation. There should be some improvement this season as the Commodores return a nice mix of veterans and younger players that will be called on to step up.

Anfernee Orji is back at linebacker. He led the team with 92 tackles in 2021. Right behind him with 85 tackles was Ethan Barr, also a linebacker. This duo could be a serious 1-2 punch for a Vandy defense that should get better under coordinator Nick Howell.

They accounted for the majority of stops last season, but not in the backfield. Vanderbilt had 51 tackles for loss and just nine sacks, and was among the worst in the SEC and nation in those categories. Actually, Vandy was dead last in sacks.

Daevion Davis and Nate Clifton return at defensive line, a position that needs a lot of help.

The schedule

The good news is Vanderbilt starts the season in beautiful Hawaii, so at least there’s a plus. The Commodores have Elon, Wake Forest and Northern Illinois after that.

There is a slim chance Vanderbilt could be 4-0 when it rolls into Tuscaloosa on Sept. 24. More likely, Vandy will be 1-3 with a win over Elon.

From then on, it’s all SEC for Vandy.

Outlook

It’s going to be another disappointing fall in Nashville. The Commodores likely will not win an SEC game—just like 2021—and they will move to 0-29 against the SEC since 2019. There is talent on the Vanderbilt roster, there just isn’t enough. And everyone else in the SEC is just way ahead of the curve in recruiting and culture. The major issue is on offensive and defensive line. You can’t anchor an offense or defense without strength up front.

Vanderbilt logo

The Game

Date: Sept. 24

Time: TBD

TV: TBD

Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium

Series: Alabama leads 60-19-4. The Crimson Tide has notched 22 straight wins.

Last meeting: 2017, Alabama won 59-0. Running back Damien Harris ran for 151 rushing yards and three touchdowns, and Bo Scarbrough added two scores in Nashville. 

Vanderbilt quarterback Mike Wright (5) hands the ball off to Vanderbilt running back Rocko Griffin (24) during an SEC conference with Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

Vanderbilt quarterback Mike Wright (5) hands the ball off to Vanderbilt running back Rocko Griffin (24) during an SEC conference with Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

The Team 

The Coach: Clark Lea (second year, 2-10 as a head coach)

Offensive Coordinator: Joey Lynch

Defensive Coordinator: Nick Howell

2021 Record: 2-10 (0-8 SEC)

2021 Rankings: Total offense No. 118; Total defense No. 118.

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Returning Starters: 14, seven on each side. However, Vanderbilt had 17 returning starters last year year and went winless in conference play.

Players to Watch: Interior linebackers Anfernee Orji and Ethan Barr may be the biggest strength of the whole team, and the Commodores also added Clemson transfer Kane Patterson. Keep an eye on cornerback B.J. Anderson. However, the only position where they may have an edge over the Crimson Tide is at long-snapper with Wesley Schelling. At least Vanderbilt has two experienced quarterbacks in Mike Wright and Ken Seals.

Top Newcomer: Freshman Ja'Dais Richard was one of the top recruits in the Class of 2022, and might start from day one at free safety. Also, the Commodores don't have a lot of experience at wide receiver, so look for freshmen Jayden McGowan and Daveon Walker to get thrown into the mix pretty early.

Biggest Question: How long will it take Vanderbilt to snap its 21-game losing streak against SEC opponents? 

Vanderbilt linebacker Anfernee Orji celebrates after notching a sack at Tennessee in 2021.

Vanderbilt linebacker Anfernee Orji celebrates after notching a sack at Tennessee in 2021.

The School

Location: Nashville, Tenn.

Founded: 1873

Enrollment: 14,000

Nickname: Commodores

Colors: Black and gold

Mascot: Mr. Commodore

Vanderbilt Commodores head coach Clark Lea during the second half against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in 2021.

Vanderbilt Commodores head coach Clark Lea during the second half against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in 2021.

The Program 

Coaching Changes During Saban Era: Four

Last Time Beat Alabama: Sept. 29, 1984, 30-21 in Tuscaloosa.

Last Time Won Division: None.

Last Time Won SEC Championship: None.

National Championships (0): It was in the mix in both 1921 and 1922, but Vanderbilt doesn't claim them. Dan McGugin was the head coach, with Wallace Wade his top assistant coach.

Playoff Appearances: None

SEC Championships: None. Vanderbilt has won 14 conference titles, but the last was 100 years ago, 1922.

Bowl Appearances: 4-4-1

Last Time Didn’t Play in a Bowl: Last year

Heisman Trophies: None

Consensus All-Americans During Saban Era: 1, Zach Cunningham, LB, 2016

First-Round NFL Picks During Saban Era: 1, Chris Williams, T, 2008

2022 NFL Draft: No one selected

Last Four Recruiting Class Rankings: No. 32 in 2022. Previously it finished No. 49 in 2021, No. 52 in 2020, and No. 58 in 2019 per the 247Sports composite. 

The Schedule 

August 27 at Hawai'i
Sept. 3 Elon
Sept. 10 Wake Forest
Sept. 17 at Northern Illinois
Sept. 24 at Alabama
Oct. 8 Ole Miss
Oct. 15 at Georgia
Oct. 22 at Missouri
Nov. 5 South Carolina
Nov. 12 at Kentucky
Nov. 19 Florida
Nov. 26 Tennessee

Did You Know?

Vanderbilt has never defeated the top-ranked team in The Associated Press poll.

The Commodores have faced off with the No. 1 team in college football only eight times, with the last meeting coming against Alabama in 2017. They played a top-ranked Alabama team in 1980 in Tuscaloosa.

In neither case did Vanderbilt manage to score even a point against the No. 1 Crimson Tide.

1939 at Tennessee L 13-0
1951 at Tennessee L 35-27
1977 at Oklahoma L 25-23
1980 at Alabama L 41-0
1996 Florida L 28-21
1998 Tennessee L 41-0
2009 at Florida L 27-3
2017 Alabama L 59-0

This is the third story in series previewing Alabama's opponents:

No. 12 Austin Peay

No. 11 Louisiana Monroe