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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: Clark Lea previews Wake Forest, emphasizes complementary football

On Tuesday afternoon, Clark Lea spoke to the media on how Vanderbilt can defeat Wake Forest on Saturday.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Bryan Longwell tackles an Alabama A&M player on Saturday (Vanderbilt Athletics).

Clark Lea addressed the media on Tuesday afternoon, three days after the Vanderbilt Commodores defeated Alabama A&M by 34 points. Lea opened up his press conference by recapping what went well in the Alabama A&M game. He then previewed Vanderbilt’s matchup against Wake Forest, a team that beat Vanderbilt 45-25 last season.

“We’re happy to be 2-0,” Lea said. “If we’re going to want to win this weekend, we’ve got to protect the ball. That’s going to be really important. Making good decisions with the ball at the quarterback position [will be important and] turnovers will be a key point of emphasis and we’re going to have to play complimentary football. This is a good team we’re playing against.”

Wake Forest presents a tough challenge for the Commodores, specifically in regard to its slow mesh offense. Wake Forest’s offense annihilated the Vanderbilt defense last year under the tutelage of Sam Hartman. Hartman — a Heisman Trophy candidate — transferred to Notre Dame after the 2022 season. Wake Forest’s current quarterback Mitch Griffis excelled in his season debut, throwing for 329 yards and 3 touchdowns.

“This is a system we’re playing against, not just a player,” Lea said of the Wake Forest offense. “We have to protect the ball on offense, we can’t give them more possessions. We have to fight for field position…Certainly, when it comes to playing defense we’re going to have to keep them out of the endzone when it comes to explosive plays and force them to fight for every blade of grass on the field.”

Griffis presents a tough challenge for the Vanderbilt defense due to his elite arm strength and experience with the slow mesh offense. Griffis and offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero will look to find holes in the Vanderbilt defense on Saturday morning.

“Mitch [Griffis] has got a knack for when to tuck the ball down and run it,” Lea said. “We’re going to have to be aware.”

Lea was later asked about what is expected of starting quarterback AJ Swann. Swann has thrown for 452 yards, 5 touchdowns and a single interception through 2 games. He will need to make great decisions against 10.5-point favorites Wake Forest this weekend for Vanderbilt to have a chance in pulling off an upset. 

“What we can’t do is give them [Wake Forest] extra possessions,” Lea said. “With respect to scoring points, it’s all a matter of how well you can play in terms of the complementary nature of your game because we’re certainly not going out there to get into a shootout and outscore them. We have to be willing to be patient on defense.”

Lea also addressed Vanderbilt’s medical issues, stating that defensive end Breydon Bapst was in a car accident on Friday and has no timetable for return. Christian James also will not play this weekend. Starting safety De’Rickey Wright is questionable for Saturday with a hamstring injury.

Fortunately for the Commodores, starting running back Patrick Smith and defensive end Darren Agu will be suited up to play in his first game of the season on Saturday.  

Vanderbilt will travel to Winston-Salem, N.C. to play Wake Forest at 10 a.m. CDT on Saturday, Sept. 9.

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About the Contributor
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].
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