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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.

Press Conference Notes: Lea previews Tennessee, gives update on QB situation

Clark Lea gave his thoughts ahead of Vanderbilt’s rivalry matchup against Tennessee and gave personnel updates in his weekly press conference.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Mike Wright, pictured in Vanderbilt’s game against Florida on Nov. 19, 2022. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Coming off of a stunning victory over Florida, Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea addressed the media on Nov. 22 ahead of his team’s upcoming matchup with No. 10 Tennessee. With Vanderbilt playing for bowl eligibility in the rivalry matchup, Lea gave insight into the team’s preparation as well as personnel updates heading into Saturday’s contest. 

On the back of two consecutive wins in the SEC, Lea began by addressing how Vanderbilt’s recent success has helped the program gain momentum ahead of the regular season’s final week. 

“To see that staying faithful to the process pays off and finding that formula for positive outcomes has been exciting,” Lea said. “We have a tough task this weekend with a really good team coming in, but we’re excited for that task. 

After a blazing 8-0 start to the season, the Volunteers have dropped two of their last three matchups, including a loss last week at South Carolina. In the defeat, the Volunteers lost starting quarterback Hendon Hooker, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL. Compiling 32 total touchdowns to date while leading the SEC’s most proficient offense, Hooker was considered to be a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy. With his injury, backup quarterback Joe Milton III will lead the Volunteers offense versus Vanderbilt.

“I hurt for Hooker. Any time you see a competitor like that go down, you hurt for someone who has given so much to see their season cut short,” Lea said. “As we line up against them, we know that Milton is capable of executing that offense. He’s proven that at times throughout his career, and you can see that in flashes towards the end of the game [versus South Carolina]. I think that they’re still very skilled on the perimeter, and Milton has every tool needed to get the ball out there. I just don’t see [Hooker’s injury] changing them that much; they have a formula, and that formula has worked.” 

After a promising start to his freshman season, Vanderbilt quarterback AJ Swann suffered an injury in Vanderbilt’s matchup against South Carolina on Nov. 5 that kept the quarterback sidelined. When updating Swann’s status, Lea did not commit to a starter for Saturday’s matchup. 

“He’s still working his way back, and we expect him to be available and full-go at practice tomorrow. He hasn’t played football in a while, so we want to be conscious of that,” Lea said. “If he’s healthy, then the decision tips to who gives our team the best chance to win. Obviously, Mike [Wright] is coming off two weeks where he’s run our offense to a level of effectiveness with success in the run game and throwing the ball, too. Knowing that we’re fighting to extend our season, we’ll make the decision that positions our team best to win.”

Through a combination of personnel changes and injuries, Vanderbilt’s secondary has struggled to find their footing for much of the season. In his press conference, Lea noted the change that the unit has seen in recent weeks.

“The foundational aspects of your personality on defense are as important as anything,” Lea said. “When the ball is thrown on the perimeter, are we pursuing with the energy that we need? Those are things where veteran players holding younger players accountable is very powerful. Those guys will continue to take leadership roles, which is something that they’ve grown into as the season has gone on.” 

Earlier in the afternoon, Vanderbilt announced the Anchor Collective: a collective created by Vanderbilt football alumni, donors, and fans aimed at supporting Vanderbilt student-athletes in their search of Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) opportunities. Lea mentioned the collective as an opportunity for his program to “level up, with respect to the resources available to our student-athletes.” Lea stated Vanderbilt Athletics wanted there to be “no compromises when choosing Vanderbilt,” which the collective helps enable.

Lea finished the press conference noting that guard Xavier Castillo, defensive lineman Kevo Wesley, offensive lineman Ben Cox and wide receiver Devin Boddie Jr. will miss Saturday’s matchup. 

Vanderbilt and Tennessee will face off on Saturday, Nov. 26, at 6:30 p.m. CST.

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About the Contributor
Anish Mago, Deputy Sports Editor
Anish Mago ('24) is from West Windsor, N.J., and is studying economics and political science in the College of Arts and Science. He previously served as a staff writer for the Sports section. When not writing for The Hustler, Anish enjoys playing basketball and rooting for all Philly sports. He can be reached at .
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