2020 Vanderbilt Preview and Predictions

2019 Season in Review

Last season was a complete disappointment for the Vanderbilt Commodores when they finished the season 3-9. Vanderbilt was my most overrated team by far in 2019, where I had them winning seven games. What I failed to account for was how much the departure of offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig to Utah would have on the Commodores. Gerry Gdowski, Vanderbilt’s quarterbacks’ coach, was promoted to fill the offensive coordinator vacancy. The hire made sense at the time but ultimately was a disaster.

The Vanderbilt offense only averaged 16.5 points per game, which ranked 125th of 130 in the nation. That was a 12 point drop from the previous season. With head coach Derek Mason’s job on the line, he ended the Gdowski project after one season. In addition to losing Coach Ludwig, they also were out QB Kyle Shurmur from the 2018 team. However, having playmakers Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Kalija Lipscomb, and Jared Pinkney should have been enough to keep this offense from being anemic.

2020 Preview and Predictions

Despite being on the hot seat, Mason upgraded his staff by adding six new assistants, including veteran coordinators in Todd Fitch (offense) and Ted Roof (defense). They were able to get a few practices before COVID-19 shut football down. The problem is that the all-SEC schedule will hurt Vanderbilt as much as any team in the nation.

Offensive Preview

The bad news for Coach Fitch is that his QB’s have attempted just nine passes at the NCAA level and zero at Vanderbilt. The good news is that Vandy has quite a bit of young talent and one of them could become the face of the program.

Transfer QB Jeremy Moussa has the most experience by playing two games as a freshman at Hawaii, where he completed four of his nine passes for 77 yards and one touchdown. Jeremy decided to transfer to San Bernadino Valley College, where he played nine games where he completed 53% of his passes for 3179 yards and 37 TD.

At this point, Jeremy’s greatest competition might be the Texas gunslinger Ken Seals from Weatherford High School. Despite playing at a 6A high school in Texas, Seals threw for 3,060 yards and 33 touchdowns and rushed for nearly 500 rushing yards. I have been a big fan of Seals since his junior season and believe he could be a star in the SEC.

Two other quarterbacks to keep your eye on are Mike Wright and Danny Clark. Although I have not seen as much film on Wright as I have Seals, what I have seen has been impressive. The dual-threat QB was rated as a four-star by Rivals, and the 247 Sports composite ranks him as the #19 dual-threat quarterback in the 2020 class. Wright produced 3,369 yards of total offense (2,653 passing yards and 716 rushing yards) and 50 touchdowns as a senior while leading Woodward Academy to a 13-1 record and Georgia 4A state semifinals. Clark is another JUCO transfer who completed 158-of-306 passes for 2186 yards, with 18 touchdowns while at Copiah-Lincoln CC in Mississippi. His ceiling does not seem as high as Seals and Wrights but the experience could play into his favor.

Regardless of who wins the starting spot, junior wide receiver Cam Johnson will likely be their no. 1 target. Johnson specializes in short screen or hitch routes were the majority of his 30 receptions last season came from. The Commodores might not have a ton of proven playmakers but they do have a good bit of size on the edge with Amir Abdur-Rahman (6’4″), Chris Pierce (6’4″), and James Bostic (6’3″).

The offensive line for 2020 looked very promising heading into 2020. However, when NFL prospect Devin Cochran transferred to GT (and then didn’t enroll), and three opted out due to COVID-19, new Vanderbilt’s offensive line coach Peter Rossomando has some tough decisions ahead of the season. There is still plenty of potential there with Tyler Steen (12 starts), Grant Miller (seven starts), and Dan Dawkins (two starts). They also added Michigan grad transfer Stephen Spanellis, who appeared in 37 games during his time with the Wolverines, and Connor Mignone was a two-time All-Conference selection at Central Connecticut State.

The news at running back is just as murky. Not only did they lose one of their best running backs in school history in Ke’Shawn Vaughn, but there is not a lot of proven production behind him. At this point, it appears that Vanderbilt will use a running back by committee approach led by Keyon Brooks (4.5 YPC) and Jamauri Wakefield (4.4 YPC). For this offense to turn the corner, these two backs will need to play better this season.

Defensive Preview

The bad news is that defensive coordinator Ted Roof also has many question marks on the defensive side of the football. The good news is there a ton of young talented players in place already. The strength of the Commodores will be on the edge with Dayo Odeyingbo and LB Andre Mintze. Odeyingbo will need to be more consistent but finished last season with 45 tackles (30 solo), 12.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 quarterback sacks, two quarterback hurries. His partner in crime, Mintze, started nine games and finished the season with 40 tackles (23 solo), 7.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 quarterback sacks. He also was fifth in the SEC with 18 run stops.

The secondary has some question marks but could develop into a special unit. Jaylen Mahoney was rock solid last season as a freshman. The physical CB from South Carolina only allowed three first downs on his 201
cover snaps. In fact, he ranked sixth in the nation at yard allowed per coverage snap with just 0.54. If CB Allan George can put it all together for the Commodores this season, this defense could take huge strides. At safety, they have Tae Daley and Frank Coppet returning but watch out for four-star prospect Donovan Kaufman who I am projecting to make the SEC All-Freshman team and All-SEC in 2021.

Overall, this unit should improve between returning players and Power 5 transfers Derek Green (Oklahoma) and Malik Langham (Florida).

Special Teams Preview

One of the few bright spots for the Commodores last season was placekicker Ryley Guay who converted 9-of-11 field goals as a senior, including 7 of 9 between 40-49 yards. He will likely be replaced by Javan Rice who has converted the only field-goal attempt (28-yards) and four extra points during his Vanderbilt career. Punter Harrison Smith (43.0) returns and should be one of the top 20 punters in the nation this season. Justice Shelton-Mosley will no longer be returning punts and kicks this season. It is unclear who will replace him but I would love to see Kaufman get a shot at the job.

Final Predictions

Best Case Scenario

Opening up with Texas A&M and LSU will likely mean an 0-2 start to the season. However, the next four games are the Commodores’ best shot of winning a game when they face South Carolina, Missouri, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State.

Worst-Case Scenario

The SEC-only schedule is brutal for the Commodores. I am convinced the defense will be improved this season and the offense will be better schematically but will there be enough weapons? Unless some players show dramatic improvement, it is going to be a long season.

Dr. SEC Prediction

We all know that coach Mason is fighting for his job. However, I hope the decision-makers will take into account several mitigating factors. There are two things I want to see for coach Mason to keep his job. No. 1, is the defense better. The talent is there and coach Roof should be able to help in that process. No. 2, do they have a clear cut quarterback headed into next season. If I was coach Mason, I would let Moussa start the season. If the team struggles, as they likely will, you promote Seals or Wright. That will give the new QB four of their easier games on their schedule to start their SEC career. At the end of the season, if the defense is better and you have a quarterback of the future, bring him back.

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