Last Serenade of the Spring

Commodores hold annual spring game at Vanderbilt Stadium

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt put a wrap on its spring practice Saturday with its annual spring game at Vanderbilt Stadium where the Black Team (defense) and White Team (offense) played to a 32-32 tie.

The Commodores scrimmaged for four quarters and the result came down to the final play. Second-year head coach Clark Lea was pleased with not only the way his Team 2 ended the spring, but the way they have continued to set the foundation moving forward.

“These guys are standing taller, their jaws are set, their shoulders are square and I think they are anchored in a belief right now of what we can accomplish,” he said. “Now we need to make that belief a practice every day. When you’re playing hard it’s because you believe on the back end of your effort there’s a positive result.

“Right now as a program we’re focused on total effort and the guys are doing a great job of stitching that into every aspect of our identity.”

Mike Wright led the offense on the first series of the day and capped it with a 56-yard touchdown run after scrambling to his right, breaking free down field and cutting back toward the middle before reaching the end zone.

“The defense had a nice coverage, covered our receivers pretty well that play. I was just extending the play, looking downfield and just being myself out there and making a play for the team,” Wright said. “Rather than going out of bounds I decided to cut it back up the middle of the field.

“We have a standard where we want to play longer and harder than our opponents. When you see big runs like that and explosive runs like that it means we got a block downfield.”

Justin Harris made the first significant defensive play of the day on the ensuing series when he picked off an AJ Swann pass.

Patrick Smith was the next Commodore to find pay dirt. The running back scampered in from three yards out through the left side, a touchdown set up by a long Ken Seals pass to Will Sheppard.

Alex Brown got the defense a stop with a third-down sack after that. Wright came out to lead the offense once again and got that unit into the red zone, but a big hit from Jaylen Mahoney on running back Rocko Griffin popped the ball loose and Daniel Martin came up with a fumble recovery inside the 10.

Maurice Edwards found the next touchdown for the offense with a 1-yard plunge up the middle early in the second quarter. Joseph Bulovas made a 26-yard field goal for the last play of the first half giving the offense a 24-22 lead over the defense.

Lea took a microphone at halftime and thanked those in attendance for coming as well as the former football student-athletes who were at Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday. Lea also let those in the stadium know that Vandy is, “building a team to reflect the toughness of our city.”

The first drive of the second half ended at the 45 going in when Christian James came up with a fumble recovery. A Miles Capers sack shut down the ensuing offensive series.

Vandy’s defense, although shorthanded due to multiple injuries, ended the spring on a positive note.

“We’ve came far. Coach (Nick) Howell came in and put a new perspective in our heads and we came to it,” Mahoney said. “The perspective is like being a pack of hyenas. How would you feel if 11 hyenas were running at you? It’s going to be a crazy scene. That’s the style we’re playing as a defense.

“We’re not there yet, but we’ve still come a far ways.”

Vanderbilt’s last touchdown of the day came on the final drive, a 21-yard pass from Swann into the left corner of the end zone for Jayden McGowan. Swann then found Sheppard on the two-point conversion to provide the final 32-32 final.

“I let the offense go for two to tie it. They wanted to keep playing, but I felt like we had gotten far enough without injury I wasn’t going to risk it,” Lea said.

The Commodores will now return to the weight room and go through evaluations over the remainder of the semester. When they return this summer the calendar will shorten with the season-opener at Hawai’i on the horizon Aug. 27.

Team 2’s debut for the 2022 season is right around the corner.

“We can’t afford to not start fast when we get back together,” Lea said.

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.