Attacking the Unknown

Commodores will face unfamiliar defense at Hawai'i

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Joey Lynch admitted that the first week of the season always includes some unknowns when going up against an opposing defense.

He also admitted facing a Hawai’i team with a first-year head coach and a slew of new players makes the task a bit more challenging than what it may have been originally.

“Any Game 1 there’s unknowns, there’s no doubt. And this one’s even a little more rare just because a totally new staff and a lot of new players in the program. There’s not a lot of tape to watch on actually who is going to be playing out there,” Lynch said this week. “But, honestly, Game 1 is about controlling what you can control and playing your best football as a program, specifically as an offense.

“The good thing about fall camp is you see different things and different looks and you let the kids play and react and learn on the fly. So I think whatever they throw at us we’ll be ready.”

Led by defensive coordinator Jacob Yoro, who has been on the Hawai’i coaching staff since 2017 as a position coach, the Hawai’i defense lost a good bit of its personnel due to graduation and transfers over the offseason. That may not be bad news considering the Rainbow Warriors were the worst defensive unit in the Mountain West Conference in 2021 by allowing 446 yards and 32 points per game.

Vandy knows it will have to control defensive linemen Blessman Ta’ala and John Tuitupou in what reportedly will be a 3-4 scheme. Outside of that the Dores won’t have much of an idea until some time next week of exactly who will be starting and/or playing Aug. 27 for Hawai’i.

“Being Game 1 there’s not going to be any new tape to watch throughout fall camp,” Lynch said. “So we’ll get going and revisit our preliminary plan and, of course, a lot will stay the same but some will stay different just based on our personnel – who stood out for us in fall camp and how we’ve grown as a offense and making sure we’re putting our best 11 guys on the field down-in and down-out.”

Lynch’s offense, save for some rotations along the offensive line, has virtually had the same lineup throughout fall camp and has avoided any major injuries to this point.

Mike Wright, Ken Seals and AJ Swann have continued to battle for the starting quarterback job with Wright being the No. 1 signal caller since preseason practice began in late July. Ray Davis, Rocko Griffin and Patrick Smith will be the team’s top three running backs and Will Sheppard paces a wide receiver group that includes Jayden McGowan, Devin Boddie and Gavin Schoenwald (who has more often than not flexed into a slot receiver spot).

Tight end Ben Bresnahan has flanked an offensive line that likely won’t be set in stone until the days, maybe even hours, leading up to kickoff.

“We’ve got some guys that really understand what we’re doing right now. We can move them around and we can do it with different personnels,” Lynch said. “That’s something that when we came into camp we wanted to run our offense with different looks. I think as an offense we can control that and create some conflict just by our personnel and what we’re doing. That’s been very positive.”

Vanderbilt did not practice Wednesday, but will return to the field Thursday to begin installation of its game plan for Hawai’i. The Commodores are scheduled to depart for Honolulu on Sunday.

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt Athletics for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.