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.

Vanderbilt Football Mailbag: Where do the Commodores go from here?

The Hustler staff answers questions about Vanderbilt’s quarterback situation, Clark Lea and more with the postseason underway.
The+Vanderbilt+band+watches+during+their+game+vs+University+of+Tennessee%2C+as+photographed+on+November+25%2C+2023.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FJosh+Rehders%29
Josh Rehders
The Vanderbilt band watches during their game vs University of Tennessee, as photographed on November 25, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders)

It’s been an ugly month for Vanderbilt Football. The Commodores finished winless in the SEC and 2-10 overall, ultimately leading to the firing of offensive coordinator Joey Lynch and demotion of defensive coordinator Nick Howell. To make matters worse, a host of Commodores have entered the transfer portal including all three quarterbacks who played in 2023. With more questions than answers at the moment, the Hustler staff dipped into the mailbag to assess the state of Vanderbilt Football.

Where will Vanderbilt find its 2024 QB?

Andrew Wilf, Sports Editor: Vanderbilt had three quarterbacks see game action in 2023. The three quarterbacks — Ken Seals, AJ Swann and Walter Taylor — all entered the transfer portal after the conclusion of the 2023 campaign. Vanderbilt has two three-star recruits in Jeremy St. Hilaire and Whit Muschamp who have committed to come to West End. Head coach Clark Lea should poach his 2024 quarterback through the transfer portal due to the plethora of experience and skill in the portal. Before getting a quarterback from the transfer portal, Lea should first hire his offensive coordinator so that there is already a developed relationship between the playcaller and the quarterback. A key factor to Caleb Williams transferring to the University of Southern California was due to the Trojans head coach being Williams’s former coach. Also, the Commodores have a lot of money in NIL and can bring in the best quarterback talent at Vanderbilt since Kyle Shurmur.   

Frankie Sheehy, Deputy Sports Editor: Look, it really shouldn’t be that hard. All Vanderbilt needs is a transfer who has experience facing elite defenses, fits well with an offensive coordinator who hasn’t been hired yet, can meet Vanderbilt’s academic standards, can be the center of an SEC-caliber offense immediately and isn’t going to be poached by a more established program. Frankly, it’s a little hard to predict who that will be because there’s just so much we don’t know right now. Vanderbilt really is building an offense from scratch. Besides firing OC Joey Lynch, the Commodores have lost three quarterbacks, five wide receivers, two offensive linemen, two tight ends and a running back to the transfer portal so far. So where will the new quarterback(s) come from? It’s impossible to say right now. All we know is that Lea and the rest of the staff have a really tough job ahead and will need a lot of new people in place to make that happen.

Is Clark Lea on the hot seat?

Aiden Rutman, Deputy Sports Editor: Short answer, yes. I don’t think the seat is necessarily burning up, but there’s some temperature to it, for sure. This year marked Lea’s loftiest expectations as the head of the Vanderbilt Football program. Year One saw Lea go 2-10, but he was afforded plenty of leeway, considering he had inherited a team that went winless the year prior. Year Two marked an upstart season for the Commodores, who snapped a 26-game SEC losing streak, going 5-7. With another year under the belt for quarterback AJ Swann, expectations were set at a .500 record or better and bowl eligibility. Of course, things didn’t go to plan as Lea’s crew went 2-10 and has seen nearly 20 players enter the transfer portal less than two weeks since the end of the season. Adding salt to the wound is that many of the players who entered the portal thanked previous head coach Derek Mason, and not Lea. The pressure will be on the fourth-year head coach to hit the portal — and hit it hard — if he wants to cool his seat down. 

Jayce Pollard, Assistant Sports Specialist: What does it say about Vanderbilt Athletics if Lea isn’t on the hot seat? In the abstract, it’s perfectly reasonable that he hasn’t made a bowl game through three years on the job. The Vanderbilt program Lea inherited was in need of a drastic rebuild, and that task only became harder with the proliferation of the transfer portal. But last season was unacceptable. When I say that, I’m not even referring to the 2-10 record. One could make a reasonable argument that Vanderbilt could have gone 2-10 but still looked better than it did a year prior because of the difficulty of the schedule. That’s not what happened. Outside of the punter, not a single unit on the offense or defense looked better than it did in Lea’s second year. Joey Lynch’s play calling did not adjust at all to fit AJ Swann’s playstyle, nor did it change one bit throughout the course of the season despite the woeful offense. Lynch was bad a hire. Lea has now remedied that hire. But, if Lea can’t get the offensive coordinator right this time, Vanderbilt might as well throw away the season on day one. Given the academic restrictions on recruiting and transferring, Vanderbilt is never going to get the caliber of player necessary to play the bully-ball style that Lea so desires. He needs to figure that out soon and hire an innovative offensive mind. If he doesn’t, I expect a head coaching search sooner rather than later — but not sooner than for men’s basketball.

Sheehy: Not really. Lea’s decision to take over the defensive coordinator role himself and demote rather than fire two of the coaches indicates that Vanderbilt is hesitant to spend a large amount of money on this coaching staff. With the money Vanderbilt does have going to Vandy United or being reserved for the ongoing NIL chaos, I highly doubt Candice Lee would pull the plug on Lea with five years remaining on his contract. It might be nice to think that Vanderbilt is so horrified by this past season that the university would cough up millions more to find an elite head coach, but that’s just not in the cards. Lea was given a massive show of confidence with his last extension, and Lee supported him publicly again after this season in her interview with the Tennessean. In addition, Lea can come up with an essentially infinite amount of reasons why he should get more chances. He won two SEC games in 2022, 2023 was the fault of not having a quarterback and maybe 2-10 in 2024 will be all Vanderbilt can realistically expect against such a brutal schedule. I really sympathize with the instinct to throw him to the curb after such an embarrassing fall. But it’s just not going to happen anytime soon.

How will the departure of offensive coordinator Joey Lynch change the offense?

Jonah Barbin, Assistant Sports Specialist: The only place to go from rock bottom is up. The question is a tough one, as the Commodores don’t have much offensive personnel to speak of at the current moment. The one bright side of the offensive attack this year was the skill position players, but the majority of those guys are out the door as we head into 2024. My dream for this offense would be one rooted in the running attack. If you’ve read any of my articles, watched Commodore Clash or listened to Live from West End at all this year, you know how I feel about Sedrick Alexander. Was he great this season? Absolutely not. He didn’t have much of a chance to be. If it’s true that Vanderbilt is dealing with the most NIL money they’ve ever had, it should go out, fortify its offensive line and focus on building a team centered around a strong running attack. If it can do that, its new offensive coordinator and quarterback, whoever they may be, will have an astronomically higher chance of success than Lynch and Swann/Seals/Taylor had this year. Per Pro Football Focus, four SEC teams ranked top 10 in run blocking this season (Alabama, Missouri, LSU and Georgia). These teams, unsurprisingly, all sported top 15 overall offenses in ‘23. It all starts with a line. Better playcalling will follow.

What positional group does Vanderbilt need to improve most in 2024?

Wilf: Vanderbilt needs to strengthen its wide receiver room in 2024. Two weeks ago, I would have laughed at this statement. Vanderbilt’s strongest room in 2023 was its wide receiver room, but the room now is bare. Today, Vanderbilt’s wide receiver room looks bleak as its top three wide receivers from 2023 have all entered the transfer portal. The dynamic trio of Will Sheppard, Jayden McGowan and London Humphreys combined for 15 of Vanderbilt’s 23 receiving touchdowns in 2023 and will be key losses. Rising sophomore Junior Sherill and rising senior Quincy Skinner Jr. are still on Vanderbilt’s roster, but Lea will need to find a WR1 to help out his quarterback of the future. Purdue transfer Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen and LA Tech transfer Cyrus Allen will make visits to Vanderbilt. Yassen had 329 yards for the Boilermakers in 2023 and Allen had 778 yards and four receiving touchdowns for the Bulldogs in 2023.

Rutman: It was a challenging season for many of Vanderbilt’s positional groups, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Still, I think one position room stands out above all others: the edge rushers. The secondary struggled just as much, but something that goes over the heads of many fans is the role that the pass rush plays in the secondary’s success. Without generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the Vanderbilt defense is forced to drop cornerbacks and safety even further back, making it liable to chunk plays over the middle of the field. If Vanderbilt tries to take away that medium-distance pass, the other team’s quarterback gets all day to sit in the pocket, let deep routes develop and air it out for long plays. Being able to generate pressure, especially without having to blitz multiple safeties, would do wonders for the secondary. 

Anish Mago, Deputy Sports Editor: While there are a number of correct answers here, I believe the most pressing one is the offensive line. Vanderbilt’s offense struggled greatly in 2023 despite an above average passing game, and a putrid rushing attack holds most of the blame for that. While also allowing nearly 30 sacks in Vanderbilt’s 12 games, the Commodores finished second-worst in the SEC in both rushing yards per attempt (3.28) and rushing yards per game (95.3). For all of Lynch’s struggles schematically, Vanderbilt repeatedly failed to gain any advantage at the line of scrimmage and found itself behind schedule on a majority of its drives in 2023. While some of the blame for a failed running game should rightfully fall on Patrick Smith and Sedrick Alexander, the space created in front of them was minimal all season long. With the departure of Bradley Ashmore and more offensive linemen soon to follow, Vanderbilt’s offensive line will need to be largely rebuilt in 2024. That should be a good thing.

What are your way too early season record predictions for the 2024 Commodores?

Pollard: A well-coached team with average SEC talent could probably squeeze six or seven wins out of the Commodores’ 2024 schedule. Vanderbilt is neither of those things. Another 2-10 or even 1-11 season is on the table without major infusions of transfer portal talent and a dramatically improved offensive scheme. Norfolk State is the Commodores’ FCS draw and is the only guaranteed (I think) win on the schedule. In the nonconference, the Commodores play a Virginia Tech team that’s found new life in year two under Brent Pry, an SMU squad that’s currently ranked in the top 25 and a Georgia State group that’s bowl-bound and destined to have a full house when Vanderbilt comes to play in Atlanta. Yes, the Vanderbilt Commodores of the SEC are going on the road to play Georgia State of the Sun Belt. With Auburn, Kentucky and South Carolina on the conference schedule, the Commodores have what should now be recognized as a reasonable draw in the 16-team SEC. The problem is that all three of those teams are better coached and more talented. That gap will be even larger for Vanderbilt’s remaining five conference foes, so cap the win total at seven and work backwards from there. If this year is any indication, you’ll be counting for quite a while.

Mago: Predicting anything more than three wins for the Commodores would be facetious. Even putting the schedule aside, which is surprisingly difficult as Jayce outlined above, where is the room for any optimism as of now? The Commodores have lost every quarterback who took a snap last season and their three best receivers, and are searching for offensive and defensive coordinators, all while their conference opponents are getting ready for bowl games. Most of the team’s key contributors have left, and at this point, we don’t know who the replacements are or who is going to coach the replacements. It’s an absolute mess, and I refuse to believe that the guys who left are the ones that led us to 2-10; most of them were the only ones we believed could play at an SEC level. I’m hopeful that Lea might be able to bring in solid talents via the transfer portal heading into next year, but I’ll be absolutely shocked if Vanderbilt is talented and coached well enough to win an SEC game in 2024.

Barbin: It’s not going to be a pretty one. The schedule is tough, as Jayce said, and it’s difficult to sit here in December as the number of players entering the transfer portal continues to build and offer much hope for ‘24. As I previously stated, my answer to this question could look a whole lot different after I see how Barton Simmons and Lea go about using their NIL money. As we stand, I don’t see a roadmap to winning an SEC contest, and a tough nonconference schedule has me questioning whether this team will be more than a one win squad. Back-to-back road games at LSU and Mizzou followed by games against current College Football Playoff teams Alabama and Texas later in the season don’t forecast too well for this upcoming Commodore team.

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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].
Frankie Sheehy, Former Deputy Sports Editor
Frankie Sheehy ('24) wrote for The Hustler Sports section and graduated from the College of Arts and Science with majors in economics and law, history and society. He was also the president of the Vanderbilt Chess Club and a superfan of the Chicago White Sox. You can reach him at [email protected].
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 .
Aiden Rutman, Senior Staff Writer
Aiden Rutman (‘25) is a student in Peabody College majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in communication studies. He formerly produced The Hustler’s sports podcast, Live from West End. In addition to writing and podcasting, Aiden is an avid New York sports fan, and he loves playing sports, spending time outdoors and trying new foods. You can reach him at [email protected].
Jayce Pollard, Assistant Sports Specialist
Jayce Pollard (‘25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in public policy and economics and minoring in data science and Spanish. Outside of writing for The Hustler, you can catch Jayce trying to learn the rules of soccer, hating on the Arkansas Razorbacks and being chronically on Twitter. He can be reached at [email protected]
Jonah Barbin, Senior Staff Writer
Jonah Barbin (‘25) is majoring in human and organizational development and cinema and media studies. In addition to writing about sports, you can catch him acting, scouring the fantasy football waiver wire, playing golf and fantasizing about what Odell Beckham Jr.’s career would have been if the Giants never traded him. You can reach him at [email protected].
Josh Rehders, Photography Director
Josh Rehders ('24) is from Houston and is studying computer science in the School of Engineering. When he is not shooting for The Hustler, Vanderbilt Athletics or freelancing, he enjoys finding new music and good food. He can be reached at [email protected].
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16 days ago

wish vanderbilt football need new QB to help offside, also need vanderbilt football jersey to support their them.