NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A week ago, Vanderbilt was challenged with figuring out a way to respond from a demoralizing defeat at home.
Today, the Commodores are now tasked with learning how to respond from a win. Vandy head coach Clark Lea continues to belabor the point that how the scoreboard reads should never dictate how his squad approaches its work.
“We dealt with incredible disappointment in result Week 1. And then obviously we were all very excited after the game in Week 2,” he said Tuesday. “We got to make a decision whether our confidence is going to be tethered to result or whether it’s going to be off process and about intentional preparation.
“Monday should be Monday no matter the result on Saturday. This team I felt did a good job coming in (Monday) focused on learning from the game on Saturday and then redirecting our attention to Stanford. The thing I know about these guys is they care and they want this to be what they know it can be. So they listen. I fully expect to go out (Tuesday) and have a great practice and continue to see some of the things that we can control tightened down heading into the weekend.”
The Commodores (1-1) hadn’t won a game since 2019 before they went on the road and beat Colorado State 24-21 thanks to a 14-point comeback and then a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Now they’re looking to start something that hasn’t happened since the 2018 season – a winning streak.
But the road continues to get tougher with Stanford (1-1) coming to town. The Cardinal are a proven program out of the Pac-12 and fresh off a major victory of its own.
Stanford had a resounding win at No. 14 Southern California on Saturday in which it threw for 234 yards, averaged 7.1 yards per play and returned an interception for a touchdown. Like Vandy, Stanford rebounded from an opening-season loss (24-7 at Kansas State). It now has won 5 of 6 coming in after ending the 2020 season on a four-game winning streak.
Only once since head coach David Shaw took over the program in 2011 have the Cardinal not had a winning season (4-8 in 2019). The 2021 team is led by quarterback Tanner McKee who is completing 75.6 percent of his passes and running back Nathan Peat who is averaging 13.1 yards per carry.
While the success of the Cardinal has been impressive over the last decade, Lea doesn’t want his program losing sight of their own journey by trying to imitate the opponent.
“We’re excited for the game, the challenge. Obviously, coach Shaw’s been the standard-bearer for having elite-level football and elite-level academics. We want to be right there in that conversation with them,” he said. “But, to be honest, right now for our program in its infancy it’s going to more about us. This is about our development, our progress and things we need to work on to improve to be the best versions of Vanderbilt.
“So though we’re excited about playing against Stanford and we are invigorated for the challenge, it’s not going to be bigger than, ‘Can we just show improvement from last week’s game?’ ”
Vanderbilt last won a home contest Nov. 23, 2019. It last defeated a Football Bowl Subdivision program at home Oct. 19, 2019.
To wipe those streaks from the records the Dores will undoubtedly have to play their best game of the early part of the 2021 season. That opportunity comes at 7 p.m. Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium.
“We need to focus on playing better in our stadium. That’s going to be a point of emphasis this week,” Lea said. “And then starting fast. As well as we played in the middle of the game on Saturday against Colorado State, we put ourselves in a hole. Certainly Colorado State made plays but we, at times, made it easy on them.
“So we’ll focus on starting fast and trying to get out the gate with a better performance early. The goal would be four quarters of dominant football and until we find the level of consistency doing that it’s going to be hard to put really good teams away.”
Lea confirmed Tuesday that starting center Michael Warden will likely miss Saturday’s game due to a sprained ankle. Warden started the first two games of the season before being replaced by Julian Hernandez late at Colorado State.
Hernandez is penciled in to start Saturday against Stanford.
Veteran tight end Ben Bresnahan has been upgraded to day-to-day stemming from a preseason injury. Bresnahan has missed the first two games of the 2021 season but Lea said the senior will practice this week in hopes of returning to action against the Cardinal.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.