The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

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. Elon

After stomping Hawaii in their much anticipated season opener, the Commodores seek to start 2-0 for the first time since 2018.
Vanderbilt Athletics
CJ Taylor celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against Hawaii (Vanderbilt Athletics).

The 2022 Commodore campaign could not have gotten off to a more picturesque start: New QB1 Mike Wright scored four touchdowns, including an electrifying 87-yard run, Vanderbilt compiled over 600 yards from scrimmage, the defense allowed no points in the second half and all of this was done in front of the beautiful backdrop of Honolulu, Hawaii.

This week, Vanderbilt returns to the Music City to play in front of their home crowd for the first time since November 13. They will host the Elon Phoenix, a team coming off a respectable 5-3 effort in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). Led by fourth-year head coach Tony Trisciani, Elon will look to build on a season in which they finished third in the CAA after being projected to finish No. 12 in the preseason poll (6-5 overall). 

Just like their matchup with Hawaii, Vanderbilt enters the week as heavy favorites over Elon, and it will be up to Clark Lea and Co. to once again justify Las Vegas’s endorsement.

This week, The Hustler examines what the Commodores need to do to stay hot and remain undefeated.

Elon vs. a changing of the Offensive guard

Elon begins a new season without quarterback Davis Cheek and running back Jaylan Thomas, lost to graduation and the transfer portal, respectively. Cheek started 40 games for the Phoenix, tallying over 8,600 yards and recording 57 total touchdowns. Cheek was a formidable offensive force, even finishing as a finalist for the Walter Payton Award in 2021. Thomas was Elon’s leading rusher in all four of his seasons with the team, racking up over 2,000 rushing yards and finding the endzone on 17 different occasions.

While Elon has had some painful goodbyes this offseason, new faces on the offensive side of the ball have given some early signs of encouragement. Among those who could step up in the absence of the program’s former pillars is Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hampton, a running back who has hit the ground running both proverbially and literally since his arrival at Elon. In Elon’s final night of fall camp, a scrimmage under the lights, Hampton caught eyes by ripping an impressive 42-yard run and finding the endzone

If Elon wants to have a chance to leave Nashville happy, they’ll need to pull off a smooth offensive transition in their season opener. It’s up to the Commodores, who already have a great defensive Week 0 performance under their belt, to never allow Elon to find a sense of offensive rhythm.

Vanderbilt run game vs. Elon defense

Although one of the Commodores’ greatest strengths is the depth of their running backs, Saturday’s rout in Honolulu confirmed what many already theorized: Perhaps Vanderbilt’s most dangerous runner holds the title of starting quarterback. Whether Wright continues to lead the team in rushing or not, the combination of Wright, Re’Mahn Davis, Chase Gillespie and Rocko Griffin proved to be unstoppable against the Rainbow Warriors.

Things should be no different against an Elon defense that, unlike their offense, has nine returning starters, all of whom contributed to allowing an average of 26.1 points per game in 2021. Look for the Commodores to run wild in their return to FirstBank Stadium, which was renamed from Vanderbilt Stadium this on Aug. 29.

Lea vs. aspirations for the program

We are a little more than a month out from SEC Media Day, where Lea set a lofty goal for the Vanderbilt football program. His passionate remarks to the media on that day were highlighted with the following: “We know, in time, Vanderbilt football will be the best program in the country.” 

While it was certainly a bold statement from the Commodore leader, it should give Vanderbilt fans both excitement and confidence to see just how high Lea is aiming for this program to be. Lea emphasized that this ascendency would very much be a step-by-step process, remarking: “There are no cheat codes, shortcuts, no hacks that will allow this to happen overnight.”

The first step to becoming a premier program is taking care of business when you are expected to do so. That’s certainly the case this weekend, and it will be up to Lea, Wright and the rest of the Commodore squad to elevate the heat and turn the Phoenix into ashes.

The Commodores and the Phoenix will kick off this Saturday at 6 p.m. CDT at FirstBank Stadium.

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About the Contributor
Jonah Barbin
Jonah Barbin, Sports Podcast Producer
Jonah Barbin (‘25) is majoring in human and organizational development and cinema and media studies. In addition to writing about sports, you can catch him acting, scouring the fantasy football waiver wire, playing golf and fantasizing about what Odell Beckham Jr.’s career would have been if the Giants never traded him. You can reach him at [email protected].
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