NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After a slow start in 2020, the Vanderbilt offense believes it has found its stride. Now it hopes to keep the momentum going at 11 a.m. CT Saturday against No. 6 Florida inside Vanderbilt Stadium.
The Commodores are coming off a 35-point performance at Kentucky, their best of the season.
“I think one of the biggest things is there’s been a new culture here, especially offensively with a new offensive coordinator,” Vanderbilt wide receiver Chris Pierce Jr. said. “I think (Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Todd Fitch) honed in on putting people – the right people – in position to make plays.
“He’s been doing that and us as players, receivers, running backs, we’ve been honing on making the plays for him and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”
Vandy had been held to 21 points or less in its first five games, although there were signs of budding improvement during that stretch. And even in a 24-17 loss at Mississippi State, the Commodores totaled 478 yards, only to be done in by five turnovers.
Last week in Lexington the Dores went 11 of 17 on third down, had 407 yards of offense, went 4 of 4 in the red zone and, perhaps most importantly, played turnover-free football.
“We’ve been able to put the ball up, we’ve been able to run the ball pretty effectively and our play-action game is starting to take hold. Really what I came into this wanting to see is what I’m starting to see,” Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said. “That’s a blossoming offensive line, that’s a quarterback that continues to get better every game and then the skill players around him that are starting to grow up because they understand that they’re all targets.”
Vanderbilt now has its toughest challenge to date going up against the SEC East-leading Florida Gators (5-1, 5-1 SEC). Head coach Dan Mullen has a pretty high-powered offense of his own and a star quarterback in Kyle Trask.
Florida is scoring 45.8 points per game and has the nation’s fourth-best passing offense. Trask leads the country with 28 touchdown passes.
“We face a Florida team this week that is playing dynamic. They’re dynamic offensively,” Mason said. “Generally they have guys on both sides of the ball who can make plays. Trask right now is playing as good as anybody in the country, putting up (former LSU quarterback) Joey Burrow-esque numbers with his team.”
The Gators have won three in a row since an Oct. 10 loss at Texas A&M. They have been able to do that, Mason said, because of their ability to not just be explosive offensively, but to be solid defensively and on special teams.
That’s something Vanderbilt (0-6, 0-6 SEC) has yet to do this season – and something it will absolutely have to do for 60 minutes this Saturday.
“They’re finding ways in all three phases to play well. That puts the challenge back on us to match them in all three phases,” Mason said. “That’s the goal, that’s what we’ve set out to do, that’s what we’ve embarked on as we have finished the Tuesday practice.”
Vanderbilt senior defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo has accepted an invitation to the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl.
The game is scheduled for Jan. 30 at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Alabama. The contest and practices throughout the week will be televised by NFL Network.
This year, Odeyingbo paces the Commodores with 5.0 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He owns 28 career tackles for loss, just 0.5 away from the top eight in Vanderbilt history.
The 2020 Preseason All-SEC second team honoree registered 1.5 sacks in the matchup against South Carolina and posted one sack at Mississippi State.
In 2019, the Irving, Texas, product registered 45 tackles (30 solo), 12 tackles for loss, 1.5 quarterback sacks and two quarterback hurries.
Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com. Follow him @MrChadBishop.