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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Three Matchups to Watch: Vanderbilt vs. East Tennessee State

The Commodores will look to make it back-to-back victories over the Buccaneers and snap a ten-game losing streak this Saturday.
The Clark Lea era is finally set to begin this weekend as the Commodores host in-state foe ETSU. (Vanderbilt Athletics).

The Vanderbilt Commodores will face the East Tennessee State Buccaneers this Saturday night at 7 p.m. CDT, looking to snap their grueling ten-game losing streak. Vanderbilt has not won a game since its last matchup against the Buccaneers on Nov. 23 in 2019, a 38-0 blowout at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Saturday will officially mark the start of the Clark Lea era, and it is an opportunity to get this season started in the right direction. The key to the Commodores’ success in their 2019 game against the Buccaneers included owning the line of scrimmage and creating strong openings for the running backs on offense. Here are three matchups to watch on Saturday in this year’s rendition.

Quarterback Tyler Riddell vs. Quarterback Ken Seals

Despite junior Brock Landis starting the final three games of the Buccaneers’ 2021 spring season, redshirt freshman Tyler Riddell will get the starting nod Saturday night against the Commodores. Riddell (5’11”, 170 lbs.) started in the first three games of the 2021 spring season, finishing the year completing 50 of 82 passes for 575 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He threw for a career-best 207 yards against Furman, completing 22 of 35 passes and tallying a career-high two touchdown passes in the Buccaneers’ 28-21 win at The Citadel on March 20.

Although Lea stated that sophomore Mike Wright will get touches under center—perhaps in situations closer to the goal line—it will be Ken Seals who will get the start. The 6’3”, 220-pound quarterback comes into the season as a very experienced true sophomore, having started all nine games last season. Having been the third SEC true freshman quarterback to start a season opener since 1972, Seals finished the season completing 186 of 288 passes for 1,928 yards—a Vanderbilt freshman record—and 12 touchdowns to ten interceptions. 

Seals clearly comes into this game with more experience than Landis, but he has yet to notch his first victory as a Commodore. Expect the sophomore to come out with a mission on his mind: get the Commodores’ season started on the right note with a win.

Running Back Quay Holmes vs. Running Backs Duo Re’Mahn Davis and Rocko Griffin 

Holmes, a 6’1”, 220-pound redshirt junior, was a two-time Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Week (Feb. 22 and April 5) in the Buccaneers’ 2021 spring season. He started in all six games, finishing the season with 640 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 122 carries. He led the conference with 5.2 yards per carry and 1,094 all-purpose yards. Holmes is a threat on offense as a receiver as well, hauling in 11 receptions for 55 yards in the six-game season. He also finished last season with 399 kick return yards in 16 attempts. 

Re’Mahn Davis, a junior transfer from Temple, had a strong spring season that extended into the summer and has thus earned Vanderbilt’s No. 1 spot for the running back position to start the year. In four games for Temple in the 2020 season, he had 78 carries for 323 yards (4.1 yards per carry) and one touchdown. He also caught 12 passes for 62 yards (5.2 yards/reception). At 5’9”, 205 lbs., Davis is a powerful threat that has the capability to explode for big gains.

Rocko Griffin, the 5’9”, 203-pound sophomore, saw limited snaps last year but did appear in eight games. He totaled 92 yards on 37 carries last season but look for him to have a bigger role this year to complement Davis.

The importance of a strong run game in this weekend’s game cannot be understated: in the 2019 matchup against the Buccaneers, the Commodores had a balanced attack on the ground with 220 total yards, including 139 and two touchdowns from current Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn.

East Tennessee State’s Secondary vs. Vanderbilt’s Wide Receivers

The Buccaneers’ secondary includes two seniors: free safety Tyree Robinson and cornerback Karon Delince, and it’s rounded out by redshirt freshman cornerback Alijah Huzzie and redshirt sophomore strong safety Mike Price. In the 2021 spring season, the Bucs’ secondary limited its opponents to 1,040 total receiving yards in six games, but the size and experience of Vanderbilt’s receivers will likely make this weekend’s matchup a difficult task.

Vanderbilt is led by a trio of receivers: seniors Cam Johnson and Amir Abdur-Rahman and fifth-year senior Chris Pierce Jr. Johnson was voted to the Preseason All-SEC Third Team by Pro Football Focus coming off a 2020 season where he was the team leader in receptions (56) and receiving yards (545). Abdur-Rahman was voted to the Preseason All-SEC Honorable Mention team by Pro Football Focus, racking up 27 receptions for 406 yards and scoring one touchdown last year. And Pierce Jr. started in eight games last season, recording 25 receptions for 371 yards, as well as a team-high five touchdowns. 

A strong performance from the Commodores’ receivers is crucial to a balanced offensive attack that, with proper execution, may overwhelm the Buccaneers from the start.

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About the Contributor
Andy Carr
Andy Carr, Former Assistant Sports Editor
Andy Carr ('22) was a student in the College of Arts and Science who studied economics with minors in business and computer science. In addition to writing, he enjoys running, playing golf and rooting for all D.C. sports. He can be reached at [email protected].
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