NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The numbers have been good. The optimism should be as well.
Vanderbilt’s offensive identity has continued to take shape and to improve each and every week in 2022. And the team’s production is light’s years ahead of where it stood in 2021.
“If we look back a year ago I think we would have said that offensively we were a mess,” Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea said. “I think (it is because) what (offensive coordinator Joey Lynch has) been able to do with his staff, designing and then growing the players within the design.”
As Vandy (3-3, 0-2 SEC) looks ahead to the second half of its season, which begins at 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday at No. 1 Georgia, it can take solace in the fact that its attack is seemingly on the right track—and maybe even ahead of schedule.
The Commodores, perhaps most importable, have scored 187 offensive points. That’s just two point shy of the 189 the 2021 squad scored over 12 games.
Vandy is also on pace to finish with about 500 more rushing yards and about 300 more passing yards than the entire 2021 season. Its rushing attack is gaining 4.65 yards per carry, up from 3.5 in 2021, and quarterbacks Mike Wright and AJ Swann have combined to toss 14 touchdown passes.
Vanderbilt quarterbacks only completed 13 touchdown passes in 2021.
“AJ and Mike have done a great job at the quarterback position getting the protection set,” Lea said. “The offensive line is working as a unit. Certainly there are places where we can improve and we want to keep getting better, but you have a chance when you have 11 guys that are focused on doing their job.”
Not only have Wright and Swann made plays, running back Ray Davis, who ranks 20th nationally with 18 carries per game, 32nd with 507 rushing yards and 41st with 84.5 rushing yards per game, and wide receiver Will Sheppard, now second nationally with eight touchdown catches, have been impressive, too. And freshman Jayden McGowan now has 572 all-purpose yards—the most for a Vandy freshman since Jamauri Wakefield had 644 in 2017.
Vandy’s skill players have been protective of the pigskin as well. Wright’s interception against Wake Forest on Sept. 10 is the only interception thrown by Vanderbilt so far this season and the Commodores have just five giveaways overall.
Lea and Davis both recently praised the play of the offensive line for some of the team’s success, a unit that has allowed just six sacks compared to the 28 surrendered in 2021. Swann, with a passer rating of 151.49, said chemistry has been a major key.
“We all trust each other now,” he said. “I wasn’t here last year, obviously, but I think there may have been a little doubt. You have a whole new coaching staff, a bunch of new plays and stuff. Getting accustomed to the playbook was a big help this offseason. We still had a couple guys in the spring saying, ‘Hey, what do I run right here?’ Now everybody knows exactly what to run, what different motions, what different formations we can do on the same play.
“I think that’s a big help, just trusting each other and asking questions instead of being scared to ask.”
Other key areas in which Vanderbilt’s offense has shown vast improvement include time of possession (ranked 31st nationally at 31:54), passing efficiency (42nd nationally at 148.1) and in scoring (43rd nationally with 33.2 points per game). The Dores also already have as many plays of at least 30 yards (14) as they did for all of the 2021 campaign.
Another impressive stat? Vandy is 21-for-21 in red zone scoring opportunities and one of just four teams to be perfect in that area this season along with Clemson (32-32), Ohio State (29-29) and Tennessee (27-27).
Now the Commodores just need to find a way to keep those numbers trending upward as they embark on the second half of the season starting Saturday at No. 1 Georgia.
“A huge credit to the players for their development. Credit to the staff for their design. And then we’ve gotten a lot out of the quarterback play,” Lea said. “We’re a program that’s developmentally-focused, that is everyday pushing forward and, hopefully, every day that we’re together we’re getting closer to that vision of four quarters of tough, physical, relentless football that we know we can play.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.