Press Conference Notes: Lea reflects on Ole Miss loss, looks ahead to Georgia

Clark Lea met with the media on Tuesday for his weekly press conference, discussing his team’s loss to Ole Miss and looking ahead to Georgia.


Barrie Barto

The Vanderbilt offensive line huddles, as photographed on Oct. 8, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto)

Bryce Smith, Sports Editor

Clark Lea addressed the media on Tuesday afternoon during his weekly scheduled press conference session. The head coach discussed his takeaways from the team’s 52-28 loss at the hands of Ole Miss on Saturday and previewed the Commodores match up against the no. 1 Georgia Bulldogs. Lea mentioned the difficulty of Vanderbilt’s schedule thus far as a reason for optimism moving forward.

The context for us is that we’re 3-3 and in position to achieve a lot this season, there’s a lot left for this team to do,” Lea said. “We’ve lost to three opponents that are at the top-15 [of the country], two of which are the top-10. And we’re in a historic stretch of games here for this program, this weekend facing the third top-10 team in a row. We’re getting measured against the best, we’re a program that’s developing and the results thus far are a reflection of where we are, not of where we’re headed. Once you get past the sting of the result, you can see progress being made.”

With the news of junior running back Rocko Griffin’s departure from the football program, the Commodores are down to just two healthy scholarship running backs at the moment. Lea addressed the lack of depth and hinted that the staff is hopeful that freshman tailback Chase Gillespie will be healthy enough to suit up on Saturday against the Bulldogs.

“It’s [a] soft tissue [injury] and so, those are day to day issues. Chase may be a little further along and we’re hopeful for his availability right now, but we will have to wait and see. Obviously that depth chart took a hit with Rocko’s departure. We have to work on a plan to account for that.” Lea said.

The head coach provided injury updates on Steven Sannieola, Christian James (both day-to-day) and Daevion Davis (still a few weeks away) as well.

Reflecting on the Commodores’ loss to Ole Miss, Lea touched on the team’s struggles in the secondary. Vanderbilt allowed 448 passing yards to the Rebels including multiple long touchdowns.

“You have young players that are getting experience in front of your eyes against top quality competition,” Lea said. “Our mistakes are magnified and our margins are razor-thin. It’s painful to learn from experience that results in touchdowns. I thought in the first half against Ole Miss we really had a good plan and we’re executing that plan. The run defense has improved, especially between the tackles, but our play on the perimeter has to improve. And it will.”

On the other side of the ball, freshman quarterback AJ Swann continued to impress. In just his third start, the youngster completed 27-38 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns. The offensive line also found success on Saturday, not allowing Swann to be sacked at all against the Rebels.

“If we look back a year ago, offensively we were a mess,” Lea admitted. “AJ and Mike [Wright] have done a great job at the quarterback position getting the protection set, the offensive line is working as a unit. Certainly there are places where we can improve and want to keep getting better, but you have a chance when you’ve got 11 guys that are focused on doing their job. A huge credit to the players for their development and credit to the staff for their design. And then, we’ve gotten a lot out of the quarterback play; to come out of the game without sack was a product of getting the ball out on time and in rhythm and, you know, getting the ball in play and I thought AJ did a nice job with that. He’s done enough with respect to evading the rush and extending plays to give us a chance down the field.”

AJ Swann and the offensive line, as photographed on Oct. 8, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto) (Barrie Barto)

As far as the upcoming matchup, Lea admired the job that Kirby Smart has done with the Georgia program. The Bulldogs (6-0) are undefeated on the season coming off a national championship last season.

“They’ve recruited well and they’ve reloaded,” the Vanderbilt head man said. “They have a good defense and their quarterback is really good and the tight ends are really good. They are no. 1 in the country for a reason.

Vanderbilt and Georgia will face off at 2:30 P.M. CDT on Saturday, October 15 in Athens, Georgia.