HONOLULU — Vanderbilt begins its highly-anticipated 2022 season when it takes the field at Hawai’i to face the Rainbow Warriors at 9:30 p.m. CT Saturday.
The Commodores have been preparing for the matchup in Honolulu since Monday and are looking to start the rebound from a 2-10 season in 2021. Vandy returns eight starters on the defensive side of the ball and seven on the offensive side of things.
Hawai’i will take the field with first-year head coach Timmy Chang. The Rainbow Warriors went 6-7 one season ago.
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 Rainbow Warriors:
When: 9:30 p.m. CT Saturday
Location: Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex (9,000)
Television: CBS Sports Network
Richard Waltz (play-by-play), Aaron Taylor (analyst), Sherree Burress (sideline)
Vanderbilt Sports Network from Learfield
On-Air Time: 8 p.m. CT
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 134 and 190; SiriusXM online 961
Vanderbilt Athletics App (Free)
85 degrees at kickoff, seven percent chance of rain
1. The Great Unknown
Vanderbilt has preached much of the week about controlling what only it control. It’s imperative it does that given so much is unknown about the Rainbow Warriors.
Hawai’i has a first-year head coach in Chang and a first-year offensive coordinator. The program also added dozens of new student-athletes in the offseason.
All that equates to Vanderbilt not being able to have an exact idea of what it will see come 9:30 p.m. Saturday.
Thus, the Commodores must play pull off their own respective game plans while simultaneously adjusting to what is presenting in front of them at Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex.
2. Making Everything Wright
On paper, Mike Wright has been the team’s starting quarterback dating to the end of last season. But the junior has never began a season as the No. 1 guy behind center.
Wright will have to prove he can lead the Commodores to victory as, not only the leader of the offense, but as the team as a whole. The Atlanta product had some big moments in 2021 as a sophomore, but undoubtedly has to raise his game in 2022 if the Dores are to have a turn-around campaign.
Saturday will go a long way in determining whether Wright can set the tone for the months to come.
3. An O-Line on O’ahu
One of the biggest questions marks for the Vanderbilt offense going into the 2022 season will be the play of the team’s offensive line.
Vandy will potentially start Gunnar Hansen at left tackle, Ben Cox at left guard, Julian Hernandez at center, Delfin Xavier Castillo at right guard and Bradley Ashmore at right tackle. That group hasn’t played a lot of snaps together as a unit, but second-year offensive line coach AJ Blazek is putting his trust in that quintet to get the job done.
Transfer Jacob Brammer along with Junior Uzebu and Gage Pitchford could also see time Saturday and as the season progresses. If those Dores in the trenches can dictate the flow of the game then positive outcomes will be in store for Vandy in 2022.
4. Oh Hello, Hyenas
Saturday’s contest also marks the Vanderbilt debut of defensive coordinator Nick Howell.
Howell came to Vandy after a successful stint at Virginia and has already made his mark on the defense by instilling in it a hyena mindset. The idea formed after watching the Vanderbilt women’s basketball team swarm to the ball and wreak havoc on its opposition.
Vandy’s defense returns eight starters on the defensive side and could be the strength of the team if that unit bonds under Howell’s direction.
5. Beat the Bows, Not the Dores
A constant refrain from second-year Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea throughout the entirety of the preseason has been to guard against self-sabotage.
As Vanderbilt football still continues to build its program under Lea, the former Commodore fullback has stressed the importance of avoiding self-inflicted and avoidable mistakes that could cost Vandy yards, points and, ultimately, wins.
Watch for Vanderbilt’s ability Saturday to overcome the environment, the opponent and itself.
(6.) Winning for Williams
On July 7, the Vanderbilt football family lost one of its treasured members when Jimmy Williams died. He was 43.
Williams starred for the Commodores from 1997-2000 and was named an SEC Football Legend in 2013. One of the greatest 100 players in the history of Vanderbilt Stadium, Williams went on to play six seasons in the NFL.
Joining Vanderbilt this week in Hawai’i has been Williams’ widow, Chandra Williams, and William’s son Carter. Chandra spoke to the team Monday morning before the team’s first practice on the island and Carter, who goes by Ace, helped Lea run Thursday morning’s practice.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.