NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s finally game week for a season that, at times, looked like it may never arrive.
Vanderbilt travels to College Station, Texas, this week to face No. 10 Texas A&M at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The matchup will be the season-opener for both teams and the start of a 10-game, SEC-only schedule that was set up only after months of waiting to see how the COVID-19 pandemic would play out.
“We’ve seen a bunch of games being played. It’s tough to just sit here and watch and say, ‘Man, we could be playing,’ ” Vanderbilt wide receiver Cam Johnson said. “But we know we only have another week. The guys are getting anxious. The group texts are starting to go crazy with stuff about being excited.
“I think everyone has sort of gotten over the leery stage with it being only a week away. We’re pumped to get back out there and to be able to play against someone that’s not our teammate for the first time in a while.”
Johnson will be part of a new-look offense that will be making its debut Saturday. Vandy will have a new starting quarterback, new starting running back, new starting tight end and new starters on the offensive line. Todd Fitch will also be calling his first game as the team’s offensive coordinator.
It will be an attack hoping to spread the ball around to multiple skill position playmakers while using a quick pace to keep the defense on its heels.
“I think we have really good running backs that are definitely going to be able to find the holes and open up the passing game so I think it’s all sort of predicated on one another,” Johnson said. “I think if we have the run game established, if we’re able to spread guys out after that we’ll be able to throw the ball a lot more.
“We’re prepared to throw the ball 40-50 times a game if that’s what it comes down to. It’s just going to be a game-by-game basis on how much we throw the ball. We’re definitely going to be spreading the ball out and throwing it a lot more than we have in the past.”
The Vandy defense will also have a new flavor to it with coordinator Ted Roof starting his first season with the Commodores. But Vanderbilt has plenty of returning student-athletes on that side of the ball like linebackers Andre Mintze and Dimitri Moore, defensive backs Frank Coppet, DC Williams and Allan George and linemen Dayo Odeyingbo, Cameron Tidd and Daevion Davis.
A mix of now-eligible transfers, newcomers and underclassmen should provide depth to a unit expected to be the strength of the Commodores.
“What I hope and plan and am surely confident in is that this defense is good at playing together, snap-in, snap-out, wherever the ball is,” Mintze said. “We’re going to play as a unit, we’re going to do our jobs and we’re going to execute at a high level.”
Vanderbilt was originally scheduled to open its season Sept. 5. But concerns over how to manage playing the game during a pandemic delayed kickoff three weeks.
Head coach Derek Mason and his program have also paused team activities to take extra precautions in regards to player safety.
But now it appears there is light at the end of the tunnel. That equates to the Commodores taking the field ready to prove the naysayers wrong.
“Every single time we step on the field there is something to prove, there is a goal that we’re all trying to attain which is winning – winning downs, winning our 1-on-1 matchups, winning the game ultimately,” Mintze said. “We have so much to prove every time we step on the field.
“Every single time we step on the field the year, just know we are on a high level with anyone we are on the field with.”
Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com. Follow him @MrChadBishop.