NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt completes the nonconference portion of its 2021 schedule when it hosts Connecticut on Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium.
The Commodores are coming off back-to-back losses to Stanford and Georgia, respectively, and are looking to snap a nine-game home losing streak against FBS opponents and seven-game home losing streak overall. Vandy begins a stretch of seven consecutive SEC games after Saturday.
The Huskies of UConn (0-5) are on a nine-game losing streak dating to 2019 (they did not compete during 2020 due to COVID-19).
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 Huskies:
When: 6:32 p.m. Saturday
Location: Vanderbilt Stadium
Brian Custer (play-by-play), Kelly Stouffer (analyst)
Vanderbilt Sports Network from Learfield
On-Air Time: 6:30 p.m.
Pregame Show: 5 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 191; SiriusXM online 962
76 degrees at kickoff, cloudy, 15 percent chance of rain
1. Run Game Roots
Vanderbilt looked like it had its run game on track after three games of the 2021 season. But a season-ending injury to Re’Mahn Davis coupled with the matchup against Georgia’s defensive line last week equated to a screeching halt for the Vandy run game train.
The Commodores were held to 54 rushing yards against No. 2 Georgia one week after totaling 247 against Stanford. They need to revert to more of the latter than the former.
UConn ranks 123rd nationally in rush defense having allowed 233.8 yards per contest and the Huskies have surrendered at least 156 yards on the ground in every game this season.
Opportunity is ripe for the Vandy offensive line and Rocko Griffin to put up some big numbers Saturday as it pertains to the ground game.
2. Ball Security
Vanderbilt, as a program, has at least one turnover in four straight games and in 13 of the past 14 contests. Twice this season the Commodores have left the field with three turnovers in a single game.
That can no longer happen.
If the Commodores have any hopes of breaking a long home losing streak they must figure out a way to play turnover-free football. So far this season that has proved easier said than done.
3. Just for Kicks
Vanderbilt better be on its best behavior Saturday when it comes to special teams.
Connecticut freshman Brian Brewton ranks 10th nationally with 31.7 yards per kickoff return and 17th with 222 total return yards. The diminutive speedster returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown against Army this season.
Vandy has had an ebb and flow of special teams play in 2021. The performance by that unit played a big hand in the win against Colorado State while its shortcomings against Stanford and Georgia were somewhat detrimental.
The Commodores need to put together their best special teams effort of the season Saturday in order to pull out the victory.
4. Getting it Done on Third Down
Vanderbilt must find a way Saturday to sustain drives offensively when faced with a third down.
The Commodores are among the nation’s worst on third down having converted just 28.1 percent of time. In no game this season have the Dores converted a third down more than five times. Saturday against Georgia, Vandy finished 2 of 13 on third down.
UConn, conversely, has allowed the opponent to to gain first-down yardage on third down more than 50 percent of the time. Only one opponent (Holy Cross) in 2021 has failed convert at least 40 percent of the time on third down against the Huskies.
The numbers favor Vanderbilt to get its third-down offense trending in the right direction to start the month of October.
5. Receivers for the Win
After two relatively strong outings to begin the season, Vanderbilt’s receivers have been quiet the last two weeks. The Vandy offensive staff is challenged this week with finding a way to get what many thought would be the strength of the offense back to putting up big numbers.
Connecticut has given up 8.3 yards per completion through five games and has allowed 14 passing touchdowns thus far. That would seem to indicate that the likes of Chris Pierce, Cam Johnson and Will Sheppard should have plenty of space to operate come Saturday.
(6.) Ah, We Meet Again
When Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea began his playing career for the Commodores in 2002, the UConn Huskies were on the schedule. Now, in his first season at the helm of the Vandy program, Lea faces those same Huskies once again.
Connecticut and Vanderbilt go up against each other Saturday for the fourth time since first clashing in October of 2002. Lea was on the winning side of that first matchup as he watched a Jay Cutler game-winning drive that was capped by Cutler’s 7-yard touchdown run with 1:14 to play at Vanderbilt Stadium giving the Dores a 28-24 victory.
Eight years later, Oct. 2, 2010, the Commodores played in East Hartford, Connecticut, where they fell 40-21 after being outscored 19-0 in the second half. Larry Smith ran for 64 yards and threw for another 157 while completing two touchdown passes.
Finally, Sept. 10 2011, Vanderbilt got a 31-yard field goal from Carey Spear with 2:56 to play and hung on to win 24-21 at Vanderbilt Stadium. Casey Hayward had a 50-yard interception return in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 21-all.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.
It’s Vandy-UConn week.
Commodores and Huskies first met in 2002, coincidentally head coach Clark Lea’s first season with Vanderbilt. pic.twitter.com/Qn6Wso6qUk
— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) September 27, 2021