Five for Friday: Alabama

A closer look at the matchup between the Commodores and the Crimson Tide

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt begins the SEC schedule Saturday with a trip to mighty Alabama. Kickoff against the second-ranked Crimson Tide is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and the contest will be televised live by the SEC Network.

Vandy (3-1) finished the nonconference portion of its slate with a 3-1 record thanks to Saturday’s 38-28 victory at Northern Illinois. The Commodores finished the game with 24 unanswered points and got four touchdown passes from freshman quarterback AJ Swann.

The Crimson Tide (3-0) are coming off a 63-7 thrashing of Louisiana Monroe. Head coach Nick Saban’s team also has a 55-0 triumph over Utah State and 20-19 win at Texas.

Vandy is 19-61-4 all-time against Alabama and has dropped 22 straight on the field (the 1993 matchup technically was ruled in favor of Vanderbilt after Alabama was forced to forfeit all its regular-season games from that season). The Commodores last won in Tuscaloosa in 1984.

Here is more on how to watch, listen to and follow Saturday’s contest as well as five key matchups to consider when the Commodores face the Crimson Tide:

When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday

Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821); Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Television: SEC Network

Broadcast Crew

Tom Hart (play-by-play), Jordan Rodgers (analyst) and Cole Cubelic (sideline)

Channel Finder

AT&T | Xfinity | DISH | Comcast


Available via WatchESPN

Vanderbilt Sports Network from Learfield

Announcers: Andrew Allegretta (play-by-play), Norman Jordan (analyst), Kevin Ingram (sideline)

On-Air Time: 6:30 p.m.

Affiliates: Nashville WQZQ 93.3 FM; Chattanooga WALV 95.3 FM; Lewisburg WJJM 1490 AM, 94.3 FM; Memphis WMPS 1210 AM, 103.1 FM

Satellite: SiriusXM 391; SiriusXM online 981

Game Day Program


Twitter: @VandyFootball and @VandyNotes

Instagram: @VandyFootball

Facebook: @VanderbiltFootball

Streaming Audio

Vanderbilt Athletics App (Free)


84 degrees at kickoff, zero percent chance of rain

1. Turnover Free

Vanderbilt has been very good at taking care of the football through four games.

Eh, except for that one time.

The Commodores have four giveaways in 2022, and three of those came in the Sept. 10 loss to Wake Forest. Vandy head coach Clark Lea alluded to that result this week when speaking of his team’s chances this Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

Overcoming turnovers is hard enough. Overcoming turnovers against the likes of Alabama is darn-near impossible.

If Vanderbilt is to have any chance of winning its SEC opener on the road Saturday, it must make ball security of the utmost importance.

2. Protect the Swann

Vanderbilt has allowed just one sack so far in 2022. Making sure that total doesn’t grow Saturday night is going to be awfully difficult.

The Commodores will face one of the nation’s best defenses and a frightening pass rush inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. That group will be salivating at the thought of making Swann’s life miserable for 60 minutes.

Lea said Tuesday that he and his offensive staff will design a game plan intended to neutralize that pass rush. Offensive line coach AJ Blazek added this week his group is more focused on how they execute their style of ball and not so much on who is lining up on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

But if Swann is under duress from the outset Saturday, the Commodores won’t give themselves much of a chance to keep pace offensively.

3. Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Would you believe …?

Vanderbilt already has 11 scoring drives this season that have covered more than 70 yards. It also has seven scoring drives that have taken at least three minutes off the clock.

This may be a significant trend going into Saturday’s matchup because one way to escape Tuscaloosa triumphant could be to dictate the terms of the flow of the game. Eating up long chunks of clock while keeping the Alabama offense off the field should be a recipe for success.

If Vanderbilt’s offense can remain on the field for long stretches of time and long stretches of yardage, that would do wonders to quiet the rabid crowd and frustrate the Crimson Tide defense.

4. Don’t Entice Bryce

The Vanderbilt defense has already faced a couple of tough quarterbacks through four games, notably Sam Hartman of Wake Forest and Rocky Lombardi of Northern Illinois. But Saturday’s challenge will be the biggest yet.

Alabama junior Bryce Young won the Heisman Trophy in 2021 by throwing for more than 4,700 yards and completing 47 touchdown passes. Young has already thrown for nine scores in three games this season and is also averaging 48 yards per game rushing.

For as many weapons as Alabama has, Vandy can not allow Young to beat it with either his legs or his arm. That’s easier said than done, of course, but if defensive coordinator Nick Howell can design a game plan that allows his unit to disrupt Young’s rhythm, good things will be in store for the Dores.

5. Smart Football

Much like the aforementioned category of turnovers, Vanderbilt, at all costs, must avoid needless and unforced errors Saturday.

Vandy ranks second among all SEC teams with just five penalties per game. But in a matchup against one of college football’s elites, any infraction will be magnified and could mean the difference in victory and defeat.

One of Lea’s common refrains to his team this week, and most every week, is to win in the small margins. Vanderbilt must make certain it doesn’t beat itself Saturday.

(6.) Tide Connections

Vanderbilt doesn’t play Alabama too often inside the modern alignment of the Southeastern Conference, but that doesn’t mean the connections between the two programs have diminished.

As a college freshman in 2001 and as a member of the Birmingham Southern baseball team, Lea faced Alabama on March 21, 2001, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama — a game the Crimson Tide won 9-1. One year later, Lea had transferred to Vanderbilt to play fullback for the Commodores and returned two kickoffs in a 30-8 loss to Alabama at Vanderbilt Stadium on Nov. 2, 2002.

And, on Jan. 1, 2021, Lea was the defensive coordinator for Notre Dame in a game against Alabama in the College Football Playoff in Arlington, Texas. That was Lea’s last game with the Fighting Irish before taking over the Vanderbilt program full-time.

Vanderbilt senior kicker Joseph Bulovas spent two seasons at Alabama where he went 22 of 29 on field goal tries and connected on 134 extra points. Bulovas is 36-for-36 on extra points during his Vandy career and has made 16 of his 21 field goal attempts.

On the other sideline, Tyler Steen spent four seasons at Vanderbilt. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Steen is expected to start at left tackle Saturday for the Crimson Tide.

Current Vanderbilt sophomore Gage Pitchford also has a unique connection to Alabama football history.

Pitchford, a sophomore expected to play Saturday at Alabama, is the great great nephew of Ben Glover, a former Alabama state senator who had a significant hand in getting Alabama and Auburn to annually play in football. That matchup became one of the fiercest rivalries in all of college football and is now known as the Iron Bowl.

Glover introduced legislation enticing the two programs to resume their annual series. Alabama and Auburn met in 1948 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, and have met every season since.

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.