NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The 2019 season hasn’t gone the way Vanderbilt had hoped or planned. But Saturday’s contest provides one last opportunity for the team’s seniors to go out as winners.
The Commodores (2-8) host East Tennessee State at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in what will be the final game in Vanderbilt Stadium for the elder statesmen of Vanderbilt football.
“Those guys have been to two bowl games,” Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said Tuesday. “They’ve represented this university at a high level in terms of who they are both on and off the field and we’re going to send these guys off with a victory in their last home game. That’s the challenge, that’s the goal, so excited about that.”
Vanderbilt has 13 student-athletes on its roster playing through their last season of eligibility. Sixteen others are academic seniors and all of those Commodores will be recognized Saturday.
The four-year seniors on Vandy’s roster have been a part of 19 wins and those who wore a redshirt in 2015 have witnessed four more. That class has also been to two bowl games and beaten arch-rival Tennessee three years in a row.
All have played the entire length of their Vanderbilt career for Mason and will run with him onto Dudley Field at Vanderbilt Stadium one last time this weekend. They’ll be trying to keep the emotions in check in the build up to kickoff.
“I think we’re just really focused on taking it one day at a time and working on the little things, working on one little thing to get better every day,” Vandy senior tight end Cody Markel said. “That’s something that we can continue to do over the next two weeks. If everyone on the team just gets a little bit better every day we’re going to make big strides as a team in general and we’ll be ready for Saturday.
“Just being able to focus on the process and focusing on getting better one day at a time. I know some of us only have two weeks left and some of us have four years left. I think the energy and the attitude is the same for every guy on the team. Everyone is just trying to better at their craft, working on their craft to make us better as a team.”
As for Saturday’s game, Vandy has dropped three straight coming in since a 21-14 win over Missouri on Oct. 19. The Dores have been outscored 118-21 in those defeats as injuries at the quarterback position coupled with a young and struggling defense has proved to be too much to overcome.
Vanderbilt has also been shutout in the second half of its last five defeats. The Commodores will have to figure out a way to generate more offense this Saturday when looking for their third win of the season.
“Coaches do a good job of brining us adjustments on the sidelines,” Lipscomb said. “We made a few coaching changes as far as who is on the field and who is in the box. Last week (against Kentucky) there were times in the game where they were doing some things defensively that had us kind of locked-up.”
East Tennessee State is in its fifth season of football after the program went dormant at the end of the 2003 season and restarted in 2015. The Buccaneers are 22-36 since resuming play, including a 3-8 mark this season.
Head coach Randy Sanders and ETSU made the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs last season before a five-game losing streak this fall derailed hopes of returning to the postseason. The Bucs are also 0-5 this year away from Johnson City, Tennessee.
Vanderbilt and East Tennessee State, separated by less than 300 miles, have never faced each other before.
“When you look at this East Tennessee State football team, it’s a good football team,” Mason said. “They had a big win last week against Mercer. Their running back (Quay Holmes) rushed for 255. He’s a tremendous talent. They’ve got a good offensive line. They found their rhythm. They got good defensive players – three NFL prospects on that side of the ball. And they hunt.
“We know we’re going to get their best game.”
COCKRELL FAMILY TO BE RECOGNIZED
Part of Vanderbilt’s Senior Day recognition Saturday will include a moment to remember Turner Cockrell.
Cockrell died November 28 after a long battle with melanoma. The tight end enrolled at Vanderbilt in the summer of 2016 and would have been a senior this season.
The Acworth, Georgia, product helped Allatoona High School win its first state championship in 2015. He had 13 receptions and three touchdown catches as a senior at AHS before becoming a Commodore.
Cockrell worked on Vandy’s scout team for two seasons before being diagnosed with melanoma prior to the 2018 season. The Commodores have honored Cockrell by keeping his No. 82 jersey with them wherever they go and Vanderbilt unveiled “Battle Ready” uniforms this season which featured a helmet with 82 rivets.
Markell also helped create Turner’s Heroes which aims to lift the spirits of young patients battling pediatric cancer while supporting research.
Cockrell was 21 at the time of his death.
• Other graduate students and academic seniors on the team to be recognized Saturday include offensive linemen Devin Cochran, Rowan Godwin, Carlton Lorenz, Sean McMoore and Saige Young, kicker Ryley Guay, quarterbacks Mo Hasan, Riley Neal and Deuce Wallace, running back Jamauri Wakefield, tight end Braden Kopp, wide receivers Justice Shelton-Mosley and Jackson Winrow, defensive linemen Drew Birchmeier, Josiah Sa’o, Cameron Tidd and Eddie Zinn-Turner, linebackers Kenny Hebert, Andre Mintze and Caleb Peart, cornerbacks Cam Watkins and Elijah Hamilton, and safeties Gil Barksdale, Frank Coppet and Austin Quillen.
• In 22 career games with Vanderbilt, Vaughn has 2,120 rushing yards – the eighth-most in Vandy history. He needs 514 yards (257 yards per game over the next two games) to finish third all-time behind Zac Stacy (3,143) and Ralph Webb (4,173).
• Vaughn needs one rushing touchdown to move past Jerry Seymour (19) for third on the program’s career rushing touchdowns all-time list. Stacy (30) is second and Webb (32) is first.
• Vaughn needs 33 rushing yards to move past Jared McGrath (2,151) for seventh and Jermaine Johnson (2,152) for sixth on Vanderbilt’s all-time career rushing yards list.
• Vaughn ranks 35th nationally with 876 rushing yards and 40th with 87.6 rushing yards per game.
• Lipscomb needs one reception to move past Boo Mitchell (188) for the fourth-most catches in program history (Keith Edwards is third with 200) and needs 38 receiving yards to move ahead of Martin Cox (2,275) for the fifth-most receiving yards in a Vandy career.
• Vanderbilt sophomore punter Harrison Smith ranks 28th nationally with an average punt of 43.8 yards.
• Vanderbilt junior safety Tae Daley ranks 33rd nationally with three interceptions.