NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt returns home a triumphant squad having beaten Colorado State on the road last Saturday – can it maintain that momentum and put together four good quarters of football at home?
Vandy’s next challenge is its toughest to date. The Commodores welcome a Stanford squad (1-1) fresh off a 42-28 win at No. 14 Southern California. The Cardinal have won 5 of 6 and have won at least eight games in eight of the last 10 seasons.
Head coach Clark Lea is looking to lead the Dores to their first win at Vanderbilt Stadium since November of 2019. His squad is also hoping to put together its first winning streak since 2018.
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 Cardinal:
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Location: Vanderbilt Stadium
Clay Matvick (play-by-play), Rocky Boiman (analyst), Tiffany Blackmon (sideline)
Vanderbilt Sports Network from Learfield
On-Air Time: 7 p.m.
Pregame Show: 5:30 p.m.
Affiliates: Nashville WQZQ 830 AM, 93.3 FM; Chattanooga WALV 105.1 FM; Lewisburg WJJM 1490 AM, 94.3 FM; Memphis WMPS 1210 AM, 103.1 FM
Satellite: SiriusXM 192; SiriusXM online 963
75 degrees at kickoff, cloudy, 25 percent chance of rain
1. Defend Dudley
Lea’s No. 1 imperative this week has been to make sure his program defends its home turf.
The Commodores did a poor job of that Sept. 4 when they fell flat in a 23-3 loss to East Tennessee State at home. Lea doesn’t want a repeat performance like that one in front of the black-and-gold faithful so he has made his squad practice each day this week at Vanderbilt Stadium and repeatedly told them after practice how important it is to play well in its own backyard.
Vandy has not won a home game since beating East Tennessee State 38-0 on Nov. 23, 2019. It hasn’t defeated an FBS program in Nashville since topping Missouri 21-14 on Oct. 19, 2019.
Stanford dropped its first game of the season away from home (vs. Kansas State in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 4).
2. Key on … McKee
Vanderbilt’s defense will be facing the best quarterback it has seen so far this season.
Tanner McKee, who took a two-year mission trip out of high school in 2018, has had an impressive start to his 2021 season. He has completed 75.6 percent of his 41 pass attempts and last week led the Cardinal to a win at Southern California.
The former four-star prospect was considered a top-50 recruit in the class of 2018 and had more than 30 scholarship offers. McKee came on late for Stanford in a Week 1 loss at Kansas State and hasn’t looked back since.
Vandy’s secondary played well at Colorado State by giving up just 238 yards passing, 99 of which came in the first 22 minutes of the game. They’ll certainly need to keep that sort of momentum going Saturday against the 6-foot-6, 225-pound McKee.
3. Beware Cardinal DBs
Stanford’s secondary is filled with veteran playmakers who have the ability to give Ken Seals and Co. fits all night long.
Fifth-year senior Noah Williams is second on the team in tackles with 12, senior safety Kendall Williamson is fourth with nine and junior cornerback Kyu Blue Kelly has two picks in two games (one of which he returned 31 yards for a touchdown). They all play a physical style of coverage which Vanderbilt receivers will have to adjust to and conquer early.
“They’re playing like a three-shell, post-safety press, about a yard off the ball, and that’s a challenge to us,” Vanderbilt wide receivers coach David Raih said. “I’m seeing the guys really hone in to their fundamentals and technique (this week) and we’re starting to have more and more success with it.”
Vanderbilt receivers Chris Pierce, Cam Johnson, Will Sheppard and Devin Boddie have their work cut out for them Saturday. If they can find some slivers of success the Vandy offense will be in good shape.
4. Vandy’s Front Five
The first knock of the season on Vanderbilt’s offensive line came Saturday when center Michael Warden sustained a sprained ankle in the second half at Colorado State. Julian Hernandez spelled Warden and Dan Dawkins took over at right guard in a shift that didn’t deter the Dores in a 24-21 win.
That’s a good sign for a Vandy unit that has to continue to raise its level of play week-in and week-out, especially against a physical and sound defensive front that Stanford presents. Senior tackle Dalyn Wade-Perry already has three tackles for loss this season and Stanford has recorded three sacks.
If the Commodores can establish themselves in the trenches Saturday that will go a long way toward victory.
5. Continuing to be Special
Vanderbilt’s special teams played a major role in the Commodores’ first win of the season Saturday at Colorado State.
Whether it was Allan George blocking a punt, Harrison Smith booming punts or Joseph Bulovas making a game-winning field goal, the Vandy specialists made their presence known in Fort Collins. Vanderbilt assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Justin Lustig had his unit in position and making plays all night long.
If the Dores as a team hope to put together their first winning streak since 2018 then it’s imperative this group continues to not only play well but to make a difference in the margins. Keep a watchful eye on special teams plays Saturday.
(6.) We Meet Again
Lea is no stranger to Stanford.
While Vanderbilt has never faced the Pac-12 school, the former Vandy fullback first encountered the Cardinal in 2006 as a graduate assistant at UCLA – the Bruins won that matchup. Lea also faced Stanford while at UCLA in 2009, 2010 and 2011 … and was on the losing end of all three of those matchups as well.
As Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator, Lea faced Stanford twice going 2-0 from 2018-19, while falling to the Cardinal as the Irish linebackers coach in 2017. Overall, Lea is 3-4 against Stanford during his coaching career.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.