Dores Look to Continue Big-Play Success

Vanderbilt hopes to continue big-play success at No. 20 Florida

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — One week after its worst offensive performance of the season, Vanderbilt came out and put together its best offensive showing against Connecticut on Saturday.

Now the Commodores (2-3, 0-1 SEC) have to find a way to string a second straight solid offensive outing together when they face No. 20 Florida at 11 a.m. Saturday at The Swamp. One method for completing that task is making sure the simple plays turn into big moments.

“I think one of the biggest things we try to perfect is just mundane things,” senior wide receiver Chris Pierce said. “Simple catch-and-throws – a lot of the passes that were caught were 6-yard routes and the only thing we want to do is get the ball in the hands of our playmakers and let us make plays.

“So we made 6-yard routes into 12-yard gains. So it’s just doing the mundane things and expounding upon those. That’s what we’re going try to carry on to the next week.”

Vanderbilt had 14 offensive plays against Connecticut that went for at least 10 yards and seven that went for more than 15. Vandy head coach Clark Lea said this week he would like to see more of those explosive plays in the passing game and noted that more opportunities were there against the Huskies that the Commodores missed.

But some of that has to do with a young quarterback and a new offensive staff still growing together, Lea said. As the relationships and trust develops, so too will the number of big gains down he field.

“We replicate what we did in the UConn game by design and then we put the work in through the week so that (quarterback Ken Seals) can go out on Saturday and play loose and play confidently and can put the ball in the hands of those receivers who we think can be good playmakers for us,” Lea said.

The emergence of Will Sheppard as a top receiver has undoubtedly helped Vandy’s passing game and that made for a glimpse of what the Dores could be against UConn. Sheppard had eight catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns to go along with Pierce’s 103 yards on nine grabs – that marked the first time since 2016 that Vanderbilt had two 100-yard receivers in the same game.

Sheppard (5.4) and Pierce (4.8) now each rank inside the top 10 in the SEC in receptions per game.

That duo, along with Cam Johnson and Devin Boddie and tight end Ben Bresnahan, gives Seals a lot of options down the field. The sophomore quarterback used those weapons by completing 10 passes of 10 yards or more against UConn.

“We had a good game plan going into it and stuff was opening up for us down the field,” Seals said this week. “And there was times when we did call (a deep throw) and it wasn’t there and it’s just making the decision to check it down or throw it away.

“You know you can be a lot more aggressive whenever you’re not forcing the ball down the field. You can call shot plays and throw a swing route and get 5 yards and feel good about calling the shot play next time. So it’s just making sure that the coaches trust me and we’re hitting them so I think it worked out well.”



Florida’s defense, of course, is much different than UConn’s, but there may be some holes in the Gators’ secondary that Vandy could take advantage of Saturday. Florida has allowed 210.2 passing yards per game this season – that number inflates to 241.5 when subtracting a matchup with run-heavy Kentucky who only completed seven passes in a 20-13 win over the Gators on Saturday.

Pierce should have plenty of confidence himself having caught four passes – two for scores – for 97 yards in 2020 against Florida. Seals was 22 of 34 for 319 yards and two touchdowns that game, one of four 300-yard passing games so far in his career.

“They do some different things and we’re watching the film from last year too just to check out some of their personnel,” Seals said. “But they’re a talented team. They’re good on defense and we’re going to have to put some points up this week. And I think we got a good game plan, from what I’ve seen so far, so I’m excited to run it.”

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.