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. Wake Forest

With back to back wins under their belt, the Commodores will look to remain undefeated against No. 23 Wake Forest on Saturday morning.
Anfernee+Orji+and+Ethan+Barr+celebrate+during+Vanderbilts+42-31+win+over+Elon+on+September+3%2C+2022+%28Vanderbilt+Athletics%29.+
Vanderbilt Athletics
Anfernee Orji and Ethan Barr celebrate during Vanderbilt’s 42-31 win over Elon on September 3, 2022 (Vanderbilt Athletics).

Thanks to a seemingly unstoppable running game and a defense that is playing with a newfound intensity, the Vanderbilt Commodores (2-0) are off to one of the school’s hottest starts in recent memory. There was a palpable excitement among Vanderbilt supporters following their dominant performance against Hawaii, and after Saturday night’s victory over Elon, it has only grown in intensity. Now, all that stands between Commodores and their first 3-0 start since 2017 is a loaded Wake Forest team that is coming off of one of the best seasons in school history. 

Having finished the 2021 season 11-3, the Demon Deacons (1-0) picked up right where they left off in their first game of the 2022 campaign on Saturday, taking down VMI 44-10. Despite missing star quarterback Sam Hartman due to a non-football related medical condition, head coach Dave Clawson’s offense had little trouble moving the ball up and down the field against the Keydets. Their performance was good enough to merit keeping them at No. 23 in the rankings. 

Below, The Hustler takes a look at three matchups that could be crucial to Vanderbilt’s success against Wake Forest.

Vanderbilt Secondary vs. Wake Forest passing offense

The Commodores got torched by Elon’s air attack last week, allowing over 10 yards per attempt and six receptions of over 20 yards. This week they will face an even more difficult task against a Wake Forest passing offense that finished twelfth in the FBS in passing yards a year ago. 

While freshman quarterback Mitch Griffis looked sharp in his first career start, it appears as though last year’s QB1 Sam Hartman will be back at the reins this week. He was cleared to return to action on Tuesday, and will be backed by a strong receiving corps led by one of the nations most explosive receivers, junior A.T. Perry. Perry, who finished last season 13th in the nation in receiving yards and 3rd in receiving touchdowns, should get lots of attention from the Commodore secondary. That, in turn, could open up space for sophomore Taylor Morin to build upon a solid Week 1 performance, in which he tallied 5 catches for 74 yards and a touchdown.

In order to slow the Demon Deacon offense, the Commodores will need senior BJ Anderson to rebound quickly from a second half that saw him record two pass interference penalties and get beat for a 22-yard touchdown. Assuming Anderson is matched up with Perry, sophomore Tyson Russell will be tasked with locking up Morin, and his performance up to this point indicates that he should be up to the call. There’s no doubt the secondary will be pushed to their limits, but if they can regain the form they showed against Hawaii, they may be able to rattle the recently-returned Hartman enough to throw him off his game.

Mike Wright’s legs vs. Wake Forest Front Seven

The X-factor for the Vanderbilt offense is undoubtedly quarterback Mike Wright’s rushing ability. While Ray Davis has impressed out of the backfield, Wright’s ability to break off big gains on designed QB runs and while improvising on pass plays has been the key to unlocking the ground game. Through two games, he leads the team with 247 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns on just 24 attempts. 

His vision and decision-making as a runner will be tested this weekend, however, as the Wake Forest front seven held VMI to just 2.6 yards per carry last week. The additions of former Richmond defensive tackle Kobie Turner and Georgia Southern transfer linebacker Eldrick Robinson seem to have filled some of the rushing gaps that were exploited in the Demon Deacon defense a year ago. In terms of the pass rush, defensive ends Rondell Bothroyd and Jasheen Davis caused problems for opposing quarterbacks all of last year and could force Wright out of the pocket early and often.

Last season, Wright struggled against tougher opponents, averaging just 4.5 yards per carry when facing ranked teams. If Vanderbilt is going to have success on Saturday, he will need to find room to run and show that he is not the same player he was a year ago. 

Vanderbilt vs. Second Half Meltdowns

Over the past few years, Vanderbilt fans have become accustomed to seeing the Commodores fail to finish late in games. Last season, the team had chances to take the lead in the fourth quarter in conference games against both Missouri and South Carolina but came up short each time. Fans were reminded of these meltdowns last week as they watched Elon creep back into the game by forcing three-and-outs on four of Vanderbilt’s final five drives and scoring a trio of second half TDs.  

This Saturday, the Commodores cannot afford to “lose their identity” late in the game as head coach Clark Lea admitted they did against Elon. Wake Forest is an experienced team led by a veteran coach, and they will be sure to pounce on any opportunities to bury Vanderbilt in the second half. The pass interference penalties, missed blocking assignments and errand throws that plagued the Commodores in the final 30 minutes last week and throughout the last few years must become a thing of the past if the Commodores are going to take down a ranked opponent for the first time since 2019.

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About the Contributor
Luke Rollfinke
Luke Rollfinke, Senior Staff Writer
Luke Rollfinke ('25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science planning to major in mathematics with a minor in communications. Luke loves all things sports, so when he's not writing for The Hustler, he's probably either playing for a club or intramural Vanderbilt sports team. You can reach him at [email protected].
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