NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Another first awaits Vanderbilt this weekend as the Commodores take their initial road trip of the Clark Lea Era when they play at Colorado State.
A 9 p.m. CT kickoff Saturday awaits Vandy in Fort Collins, Colorado, as does a chance at redemption for a side that fell flat in a season-opening loss to East Tennessee State at home.
“We played a team that executed really well. They managed momentum in the game. They never lost confidence,” Lea said Tuesday. “We never put enough pressure to where we were challenging their mindset.
“What happened is we get to a second half and a fourth-quarter game where our margin for error was so small they were able to extend drives, they were limiting possession for us on offense and when we made mistakes they capitalized and made us pay for it. They played hard and they played physically.”
Lea’s debut as Vanderbilt head coach took a turn for the worse midway through the second quarter Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium. The visiting Buccaneers grabbed a 7-3 lead and never looked back in a 23-3 victory.
The Commodores only got inside East Tennessee State territory four times after getting behind by four points. Vandy also turned the ball over three times – all three coming in the final 10 minutes.
None of those miscues were more crucial than an interception thrown from the East Tennessee State 6 with 5 1/2 minutes to play.
“We have to cease to self-sabotage drives – that’s pre-snap penalties, that’s a blown protection where we get a quarterback hit and it wasn’t a complex protection. That’s taking ownership over those details,” Lea said. “There are details within the execution that are going to allow for our offense to be more explosive. Focusing on those details will allow us not to have to extend drives so far.
“And then when we do, and that’s part of our design, it’s about avoiding the self sabotage, avoiding those pre-snap penalties that derail progress or the blown assignments that get off schedule that force us into a long field goal or punt situation.”
Colorado State also struggled mightily in its opener, a 42-23 loss to South Dakota State at home. The Rams allowed 464 yards of total offense, threw an interception, lost a fumble and gave up 7.5 yards per play.
Second-year head coach Steve Addazio has a team that was picked to finish fourth in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference. Colorado State went 1-3 during a spring slate which saw four out of eight scheduled games canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vandy, which has lost 11 in a row overall and 10 consecutive road games dating to 2019, will be making its second-ever trip to the Centennial State having played at Air Force in 1979. Lea said he and his team will be cognizant of the altitude of 5,000 feet by arriving in Colorado later Friday and by conserving energy Saturday until the late kickoff.
The largest concern, of course, will be the Commodores’ will to win in hopes of handing Lea his first victory as head coach.
“Winning is a skill. Winning is a behavior. Winning is a belief. You have to train to win,” Lea said. “We are in the process of discovering this as a program. The opponent is not going to cooperate in a loss. We got East Tennessee state’s best shot and our game wasn’t on enough to handle that and counter punch.
“In the moment where we needed to counterpunch it was this feeling of hesitancy because we’re worried about what the scoreboard’s telling us. There’s a lot that we have to work through here as a program that is a part of our process. This is a part of us becoming a sustained, competitive program that’s going to win at the highest level and it’s a challenge but it’s also a great opportunity for us and it’s one that we’re excited for.”
Bresnahan Out This Week
Vanderbilt tight end Ben Bresnahan will be out this week against Colorado State, Lea confirmed Tuesday.
Bresnahan had two receptions for 14 yards in the contest against East Tennessee State. The senior came into 2021 having made 35 catches for more than 400 yards over two active seasons.
“He’s out this week but week-to-week,” Lea said. “We don’t anticipate it being long, but just like any injury we got to see how he responds to treatment. It’s certainly not something we anticipate being long term.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.