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.

Vanderbilt defeats Elon 42-31, start season 2-0 for the first time since 2018

Vanderbilt hangs on to defeat visiting Elon behind another masterful performance from Mike Wright.
Nikita Rohila
Anfernee Orji makes a tackle in Vanderbilt’s game against Elon on September 3, 2022 (Hustler Multimedia/ Nikita Rohila)

In their first home game of the season, the Vanderbilt Commodores defeated the Elon Phoenix 42-31 to improve to 2-0 on the season. Despite 90% humidity and the threat of inclement weather, Vanderbilt fans showed out in force to watch their team dominate at the newly christened FirstBank Stadium

Coming off one of the most dominant wins in program history, the Vanderbilt Commodores faced high expectations in their home opener against the Elon Phoenix. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, the Commodores matched those lofty expectations with a methodical performance on both sides of the ball. The team led from the first whistle, taking a 21-0 lead in the first quarter that would ultimately prove too steep for Elon to overcome. 

After Vanderbilt won the coin toss and elected to defer, both teams came out slow and were held to three-and-outs on their respective opening drives. When Elon punter Jeff Yurk shanked his second punt 16 yards, Vandy began their second drive with a  favorable field position on Elon’s 41-yard line. Ray Davis gave Vanderbilt’s offense its first spark of the day with a 34-yard run on first down, bringing the Commodores into the redzone. Two plays later, Mike Wright put Vanderbilt on the board with a 5-yard touchdown run on the quarterback keeper. 

Desperately looking to respond, Elon’s Wayne Dixie caught the Vanderbilt defense sleeping for a 22-yard scamper to bring his team to the 50-yard line. But the Commodore defense held strong and stifled Elon’s drive with a crucial sack by Darren Agu on 3rd down. Vanderbilt’s next possession got off to a slow start with two ineffective run plays to start the drive. On 3rd down, freshman sensation Jayden McGowan reeled in a beautiful throw from Wright, then dashed all the way to the endzone for a 75-yard touchdown. 

With just over three minutes remaining in the first quarter, Wright continued to flash improved accuracy on well-placed throws to McGowan and Will Sheppard for consecutive first downs. After effortlessly marching down the field to go 73 yards in three minutes, Wright closed out with another short yardage dime to Sheppard for the score, putting Vanderbilt up 21-0.

While managing just 35 yards of offense in the first 11 minutes of the game, Elon quickly responded with a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the next drive. Elon quarterback Matthew McKay dropped a perfect pass right over the shoulder of Chandler Brayboy with a ball that easily traveled 50 yards in the air, making the score 21-7 Vanderbilt. 

At the end of the first quarter, Vanderbilt had already generated 206 yards of offense and scored 21 points for the first time in an opening quarter since 1999. As the second quarter began, Vanderbilt failed to advance past the 50-yard line but forced Elon into poor field position with an excellent punt from Matt Hayball. Just as both offenses seemed to be heating up, a series of defensive stops from both Vanderbilt and Elon put the scoring on ice. 

With just over four minutes remaining in a scoreless second quarter, Elon switched to quarterback Joey Baughman to reinvigorate the offense. On his first play of action, Baughman broke free for a 21-yard scramble to bring the Phoenix into field goal range. The Commodores managed to slow down Elon’s offense, but Phoenix kicker Skyler Davis drilled a 48-yard field goal to narrow Vanderbilt’s lead to 21-10. 

On the ensuing drive, Vanderbilt looked to rediscover their early momentum that powered them to 21 first-quarter points. McGowan snagged a dart from Wright, then juked 2 defenders for a 17-yard pick-up. On the following play, Wright flashed his wheels on a 17-yard scramble to bring the Commodores to Elon’s 30-yard-line. With just under a minute remaining in the half, Wright connected with Sheppard for the duo’s second touchdown of the night to extend Vanderbilt’s lead to 18. 

Vanderbilt opened the second half on offense and quickly made their way to midfield off a few crafty plays. On 2nd and 9, Wright found a hole in the defense and sliced his way downfield for a 44-yard rushing touchdown, bringing the score to 35-10. The touchdown was Wright’s fourth rushing touchdown of the season and his second rushing touchdown of over 40 yards. 

Elon’s first offensive possession of the second half began with a controversial 31-yard completion. Vanderbilt cornerback Tyson Russell appeared to wrestle the ball away from Elon receiver Jackson Parham as the two players hit the ground, but the play was ruled a catch in favor of Elon. A few plays later, Elon receiver Bryson Daughtry made an unbelievable one-handed catch to bring the Phoenix into the red zone. Elon Quarterback Matthew McKay capped off a highlight-filled drive with a scramble and dive towards the pylon for a touchdown, bringing the score to 35-17.

Over the next few drives, Vanderbilt and Elon traded off punts as both defenses stepped up in critical moments. Just when it seemed like neither team could find any momentum, Elon converted on a huge 3rd and 1 to pick up a fresh set of downs deep in Vanderbilt territory. The Phoenix were able to cut the score to 35-24 after Parham snagged a heavily contested ball deep in the endzone. 

Elon managed to stop Vanderbilt again on the following drive and cruised towards midfield with a chance to cut the lead to single digits. But on a pivotal 3rd and 6, linebacker Michael Owusu forced a fumble that Vanderbilt recovered, crushing any hopes of an Elon comeback. 

Two personal fouls by Elon defenders helped Vanderbilt quickly advance into the red zone. With 10:02 left in regulation, Wright connected with Davis, who dove into the endzone for another Commodore touchdown. Thanks to Wright’s fourth passing touchdown of the game, Vanderbilt led 42-24. 

Elon was able to respond with a nearly 6-minute drive to cover 75 yards. The Phoenix benefitted from two questionable pass interference calls but were still able to capitalize with a key rushing touchdown to cut the score to 42-31 with 5:21 left on the clock. 

On the ensuing kickoff, Elon successfully converted an onside kick to regain possession. After a few medium-yardage completions, the Phoenix were able to carve their way into Vanderbilt territory. However, Vanderbilt’s defense stepped up once again to smother an attempted 4th down conversion, forcing a turnover on downs for Elon with 3:19 left to play. 

Elon continued to pressure Vanderbilt’s defense with commendable effort until the final whistle. With 0:50 left in the game, Elon attempted a QB sneak on 4th and goal from the one-yard line. Just as they had done in so many key moments, Vanderbilt’s defense stepped up again to force another turnover on downs.

Although the game felt like a blowout, Elon ultimately outgained Vanderbilt 495-420 thanks to a huge fourth quarter for the Phoenix. Head coach Clark Lea expressed that the team will need to be more disciplined on defense to remain competitive as the season continues.

“I think we wore down,” Lea said. “We had some breakdowns—the margin for us is so small. We’re not good enough yet to make mistakes and not pay for them.”

Although Vanderbilt’s defense showed weakness, Wright’s historic performance to lead the Commodores to their first 2-0 start since 2018 deserves celebration. With a combined 2 rushing and 4 passing touchdowns, Wright became the first ever Vanderbilt quarterback to score 6 touchdowns in a game.

After the game, Lea summed up his future expectations for this team as they approach their first test of the season against Wake Forest.

Progress is what we are going to mandate,” Lea said. “We are going to keep growing forward.”

Vanderbilt will return to action next Saturday, Sept. 10, at 11 a.m. CDT against Wake Forest. The last time Vanderbilt played Wake Forest was on Nov. 30, 2013, a game the Commodores won 23-21.

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About the Contributors
Brandon Karp
Brandon Karp, Senior Staff Writer
Brandon Karp ('25) is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is studying human and organizational development and political science in Peabody College. You can reach him at [email protected].
Nikita Rohila
Nikita Rohila, Senior Staff Photographer
Nikita Rohila ('25) is from a small town in Arkansas and is majoring in psychology and medicine, health and society in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Deputy Social Media Director. During her free time, she enjoys roaming around the city and getting cinematic-style shots for her photography account! You can reach her at [email protected].
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