Opportunity Awaits

Commodores set sights on opener at No. 10 Texas A&M

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt center Grant Miller understands the challenge that awaits the Commodores on Saturday when they play at No. 10 Texas A&M.

He also isn’t worried that he and his teammates did not have a so-called warmup game going into Saturday, the start of a 10-game, All-SEC schedule.

“I respect every team the same,” Miller said. “It’s just another opportunity to showcase the talent we have, showcase what we’ve been doing this offseason and have a good game out there Saturday.”

Vandy will debut its 2020 squad at 6:30 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network against a program it has only faced twice before. The Commodores have also been to Kyle Field just one other time (2013) in its history.

Notes such as that fit into a season that will be unlike many – if any – that have come before. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the start of the campaign, readjusted the schedule to a conference-only slate and forced coaches to make personnel decisions based on who is and isn’t safe to compete.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for this football team to get better,” Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said about starting the season. “You play 10 SEC opponents, you know what you’re getting every week. We’re going to have to look at playing several young guys – and that’s OK. We’ve had to play young guys before.

“We’re fully-equipped to figure out what tactical and strategical moves are going to be needed and necessary for us to function in 2020.”

Part of the buildup to Saturday’s opener included Mason unveiling a depth chart Tuesday – the first depth chart of the 2020 season.

Offensively, Vandy will roll with six receivers who will either start or come off the bench: Cam Johnson, Tyrell Alexander, Chris Pierce, James Bostic, Devin Boddie and Amir Abdur-Rahman. Ben Bresnahan will start at tight end, Tyler Steen at right tackle, Dan Dawkins at right guard and Miller will line up at center.

The left side of the line will see either Brayden Bapst or Ben Cox take over at left tackle while converted defensive lineman Drew Birchmeier or Central Connecticut transfer Connor Mignone will start at left guard.

“This thing is going to be fluid,” Mason said of his offensive front. “I got starters and starters-in-waiting. It’s just about taking the information and getting these guys ready. I feel good about that group of nine (offensive linemen) that we have in terms of rotation and what they look like.”

Defensively, Vandy has penciled in 10 of 11 starters who are upperclassmen in defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s 3-4 scheme. Pierson Cooke will begin the season as the team’s No. 1 kicker while Harrison Smith will continue to punt after a solid 2019 campaign.

The Commodores will look to Johnson and Boddie in the kick return game.

Texas A&M is coming off an 8-5 season and win over Oklahoma State in the Texas Bowl. Head coach Jimbo Fisher will showcase a top-10 team Saturday that pundits think could challenge Alabama and LSU for the SEC West Division crown.

The Aggies have beaten Vanderbilt twice in the only two previous meetings.

“We’re focused,” Mason said of the matchup. “We’re focused on the task at hand, we’re focused on the opportunity to get better with these practices and we know come Saturday we’re going to have to be accountable and united in terms of how we play ball.”

Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com. Follow him @MrChadBishop.