The First Three: MTSU, Nevada, and Notre Dame

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The First Three: MTSU, Nevada, and Notre Dame

Photo by Bruce Brookshire

Photo by Bruce Brookshire

Photo by Bruce Brookshire

Photo by Bruce Brookshire

Simon Gibbs, Senior Writer

“For Commodore Nation, I believe the best is yet to come. So we got to get ready to strap it up. Starts in August. And I’m ready to go. I hope my team is too. I know they are.”

Just over a month ago, Vanderbilt Football head coach Derek Mason made it abundantly clear at the SEC Media Day that this team is ready to compete. Standing in front of countless reporters, he remained confident and composed, silencing many doubts surrounding his Commodores.

Last season was certainly disappointing for the Vanderbilt football program. After coming out hot and winning three straight games, they struggled to win just two more in the remaining weeks. The team faced an extremely tough schedule, one that featured home games against both Alabama and Georgia, who ended up playing in the National Championship game.

With a new-look staff and another year of experience under their belt, Mason remains optimistic for what’s to come. In terms of scheduling, this season is no different—the Commodores will face stiff competition time and time again. Let’s take a deeper look at the 2018 schedule, starting with a preview of the first three games.

Week 1: vs. Middle Tennessee

Once again, the Commodores find themselves opening the season against the Blue Raiders, but this time, it’s at home at Dudley Field. We all know how the last game went: Kyle Shurmur competed 20 of 28 passes for three touchdowns en route to a 28-6 road win to start the 2017 campaign. That win helped set the tone for the beginning of the season, but Middle Tennessee is not to be taken lightly yet again.

The Blue Raiders team is similar to last year’s as they rely heavily on the passing game. If quarterback Brent Stockstill is going to go 18 for 31 with a touchdown and an interception like he did last season, we can expect Vanderbilt to cruise to an easy victory. Unfortunately, the chances this happens again are extremely small.

Middle Tennessee finished the season bowl eligible at 7-6 and even managed to pull off a fantastic upset against Syracuse. After throwing for just 166 yards in Week One last season, Stockstill threw for below 200 yards just once more all season.

The schedule is set to get tougher afterwards, so this game is especially important for Vanderbilt. Look for a high scoring game that features both quarterbacks Shurmur and Stockstill to air it out. This game should come down to the Blue Raiders secondary—assuming both quarterbacks have some form of success throwing the ball, the MTSU secondary needs to make big plays to pull this one off. They had just five interceptions last season, and that won’t cut it against a very legitimate offense led by Shurmur.

Week 2: Vs. Nevada

Thankfully, this one’s at home. Reno is not a trip any team wants to make.

This game should be fun to watch, as Vanderbilt and the Nevada Wolf Pack have never faced off before. Nevada finished at 3-9 in Jay Norvell’s first year as head coach, but those three wins didn’t come easy.

Nevada started the season 0-5 before picking up their first win of the year. They even had multiple 42-point games, both ending in losses. Clearly, this team can score points, as they rely on the same heavy passing offense as Middle Tennessee.

Expectations for this game should be similar to week one—this team is not much better than Middle Tennessee, but they will also throw the ball as much as possible. Quarterback Ty Gangi finished the season hot, throwing for over 2,700 yards and 25 touchdowns. With four returning receivers, they should pose another challenge for the Vanderbilt secondary.

One of the Wolf Pack’s most lethal receivers, Mclane Mannix, came out of Midland, Texas, ranked as a three-star player and committed to Vanderbilt. Just a week before national signing day made that verbal agreement official, Mannix decided to decommit form Vanderbilt, thus bringing him to Nevada. Mannix had a great first season as a true freshman and should be heavily utilized in his “return” to Nashville.

Week 3: @ Notre Dame

I’d love to have a conversation with the person that thought this was a good idea.

Discussions for this game took place back in the James Franklin era and now that Franklin is gone, he walked Mason and the Commodores into an unnecessary, out-of-conference nightmare with no reciprocal game in Nashville.

Vanderbilt has to make the trip out to South Bend in Week Three and this will be one of the toughest games all season.

Notre Dame features a tough, ground-and-pound offense that has proven to be the Commodores’ kryptonite. Not too much to say about this one. It could get ugly, but this game is a good test for Vanderbilt. Their elite, run-first offense mirrors that of other SEC teams that are on tap later in the fall.

Derek Mason said it himself: while a trip to South Bend is going to be one of the toughest games all season, it can’t (or, it shouldn’t) be on the team’s radar just yet. They must take this season game-by-game if they’re to have any success.

Looking too far ahead won’t help, especially with a tough, ground-and-pound opponent in Notre Dame coming up. The Fighting Irish tallied 34.2 ppg in 2017, so this game will be a tough test for the Vanderbilt defense early in the season.

If the Commodores rack up at least two wins in the first three weeks, they can pave the way for a successful, potentially bowl-eligible season.

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