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

Film Room: Getting Jayden McGowan reinvolved

For Vanderbilt to go 3-1 on the season, the Commodores will need to win the turnover battle against Northern Illinois and continue to feed Jayden McGowan the ball.
Makayla Donald
Jayden McGowan has the most receiving yards of any freshman in NCAAF. (Hustler Multimedia/Makayla Donald)

The Commodores got pushed around by No. 23 Wake Forest on Sept. 10; the Demon Deacons infiltrated a Vanderbilt offense that hadn’t committed a turnover through two games. Vanderbilt quarterback Mike Wright’s first two performances looked to be the evidence Commodore fans needed to show that he is the perfect player to change the direction of the Vanderbilt football program. With less than a quarter elapsed in the Wake Forest game, the fans at FirstBank Stadium were watching a team that looked more similar to the 2021 Commodores. The junior had already thrown a pick-six and lost a fumble. Vanderbilt trailed 21-3 with less than two minutes left in the first quarter.

The Commodore offense got back on track when Wright was pulled for freshman quarterback AJ Swann in the third quarter. Although Swann played a majority of his snaps during garbage time, he was 8-of-11 and threw for 146 yards and 2 touchdowns. Swann’s play was strong, but Wright will remain QB1 for the Commodores.

“The program will bounce back because we have a belief in what we’re building,” Lea said after the game. “Today was an indicator of where we are. We have to take the learning and grow from this and keep moving forward.”

In this week’s film room, we focus on what the Commodores will need to do to win this Saturday against Northern Illinois. Look for freshman star Jayden McGowan to get back into the mix on offense and for Wright to limit his turnovers as keys to this one. 

Feed the youngster

Jayden McGowan is much more than a gadget guy. The true freshman has shown the world his flash right from the get-go. McGowan ranks third in the SEC in receiving yards thus far and leads all freshmen in college football with 201 receiving yards. The South Carolina native has 275 all-purpose yards this season and is averaging 15.3 yards per touch. 

For Vanderbilt’s offense to get back on track on Saturday, offensive coordinator Joey Lynch will need to design plays that put McGowan in open space early. Whether it be through an end-around, jet-sweep, direct snap or slip screen, McGowan needs to be given the ball on every drive this weekend. 

Of Vanderbilt’s 50 completions this season, McGowan has 12 of them—24% of the passing offense. McGowan averages 16.8 yards per reception, which is remarkable. McGowan is the ultimate swiss army knife: He can play in the slot, in the backfield, return kicks and run go-routes to outspend opposing cornerbacks. When he gets the ball, he gives Vanderbilt an opportunity at confusing the defense and keeping their opponents on their feet.

Following a 63-10 victory over Hawaii, Vanderbilt looked to get back in the win column when they played the Elon Phoenix. Against the Phoenix, the Commodores enforced their will early and had a chance to expand their lead midway through the first quarter. On 3rd and long, Wright launched a deep ball to McGowan down the right side of the field, which led to a 75-yard touchdown. This play was the longest Vanderbilt pass play since Sept. 7, 2019. McGowan ended the day with 118 receiving yards, which led to him being named SEC Freshman of the Week. McGowan was the third Vanderbilt wide receiver to eclipse 100 receiving yards since 2005. The Elon game underscored that McGowan’s speed is a powerful asset for the Commodores.

One week after his extraordinary performance against Elon, McGowan was poised to continue his success. However, McGowan was not targeted or given the ball until there was 1:38 left in the second quarter, which left many Commodore fans perplexed. In the second half, the speedy wideout caught a screen pass from Swann and turned it into a 50-yard pitch and catch, leaving fans wondering why he wasn’t involved earlier. When McGowan gets the ball, defenses are overwhelmed. For Vanderbilt to attack Northern Illinois’ secondary, they need to utilize McGowan’s agility more often.

Limit errant mistakes

One week before the Commodores battled Wake Forest, Wright scored a school-record six touchdowns against Elon. Wright played with ease, passing for 245 yards and rushing for 84 more. Through two games, Wright scored 10 touchdowns without turning the ball over.

Although Hawaii has an underwhelming roster and Elon is an FCS team, Wright’s play was impressive against those opponents. Against Wake Forest, Wright looked phased by Wake Forest’s complex defense. The quarterback did not go through his progressions and was not patient in his play. Instead of letting the game come to him, Wright tried to do a lot of things himself and forced the ball in places where it shouldn’t be thrown. 

Following a Vanderbilt field goal and a strong defensive stand, the Commodores led Wake Forest 3-0. On 3rd and 7, Wright rolled out to the right and threw a pass intended for Will Sheppard. Sheppard was double-teamed, and the defense capitalized. Coby Davis intercepted Wright and ran the ball into the endzone. Wright would continue to be pressured the rest of the day and became phased by the strong defensive front of Wake Forest.

In the Wake Forest game, Wright looked like he greatly regressed from a veteran quarterback to an inexperienced rookie. Wright’s body language and decision-making in the first quarter made Vanderbilt fans shake their heads at FirstBank Stadium.

Wright had an abysmal performance against Wake Forest, but Lea believes he is the right man for the job. For Wright to get back into the win column, he must protect the football. Although he underperformed against the Demon Deacons, Wright is capable of setting the tone of any game. He can lead his team to victory this weekend by taking care of the ball, using his legs and staying patient in his progressions.

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About the Contributors
Andrew Wilf, Sports Editor
Andrew Wilf (’24) is Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He is from Livingston, N.J., and is majoring in history and minoring in business. He joined the sports staff his freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Assistant Sports Editor and Deputy Sports Editor. Beyond writing for The Hustler, he is also the host of Anchor Analysis, Commodore Clash and Live From West End. In his free time, Andrew enjoys watching the NFL and playing golf. He can be reached at [email protected].
Makayla Donald, Staff Photographer
Makayla Donald ('25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science planning to major in Medicine Health, and Society with a minor in African-American Diaspora Studies on the pre-med track. She serves as a staff photographer for the Multimedia section. When not working for The Hustler, she likes to read romance novels and bake. You can reach her at [email protected].
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