After one of the most unpredictable offseasons in history, college football is finally back. As a result, a shift to a conference-only schedule means the Vanderbilt Commodores travel to face the Texas A&M Aggies in Week One to kick off the 2020 season.
In order to start off the year 1-0, Vanderbilt will have to rely on its experience defensively as a means of providing a foundation for a young, new offense. The defense will need to provide pressure up front while securing the backend, and the offense must find balance in its attack.
Here are the three matchups to watch for in Week One:
1. Vanderbilt’s Starting Quarterback vs Texas A&M Aggies Defensive Front
The Vanderbilt Commodores have not yet named a starting quarterback for the opening game of the season. The four potential quarterbacks in the mix are junior college transfers Danny Clark and Jeremy Moussa along with true freshmen Ken Seals and Mike Wright. Whoever ends up behind center will face the daunting challenge of leading the Commodores into what will be a hostile environment inCollege Station, as Kyle Field will seat roughly 30% of its 100,000-plus capacity.
If things weren’t already difficult enough for the young quarterback chosen to make his first career start against an SEC opponent, Vanderbilt will enter the season behind a makeshift offensive line that has seen four players opt out over COVID-19 concerns. An abbreviated offseason due to the pandemic allowed even less time for the offense to get into a rhythm. With so many moving parts, cohesion will be a major factor, and Vanderbilt’s line must key into its assignments to avoid a long evening.
Fortunately for the Commodores, the Texas A&M defense was middle of the pack in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in most metrics, including sacks and passes intercepted. Head coach Jimbo Fisher will most likely be looking to change that narrative by dialing up exotic blitz packages and complex schemes to throw off Vanderbilt’s new starter. To counteract, new offensive coordinator Todd Fitch will have to get creative with his gameplan, allowing his quarterback to roll out of the pocket and make quick reads in order to avoid the Aggies front four.
2. Running Back Keyon Brooks vs Texas A&M Defense
Another intriguing matchup to watch for will be Vanderbilt’s new-look running game vs Texas A&M defense. Following the departure of electric running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn (1,028 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2019) to the NFL, the attack will be spearheaded by sophomore running back Keyon Brooks and junior Ja’Veon Marlow. The offense will surely miss Vaughn’s game-breaking runs and ability to grind out tough yardage, but Brooks showed flashes of star ability last season and will look to showcase his skill set in an expanded role this season.
Against the rush, Texas A&M gave up 130 yards per game last season, good for 30th in the country while averaging around seven tackles for loss, so Vanderbilt will face an uphill battle against a team that likes to get into the backfield and disrupt plays. Vanderbilt will need Keyon Brooks to help establish a balanced attack, allowing Vanderbilt’s starting quarterback to settle in and avoid being rattled. Additionally, a potent running attack would also allow the Commodores to use play-action against a loaded box, potentially opening up downfield opportunities.
3. Texas A&M Quarterback Kellen Mond vs Vanderbilt Defense
In what might be considered an underrated matchup to watch for compared to the debut of a new quarterback for the Commodores, the Vanderbilt defense will have its hands full with Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond. Mond, who is entering his fourth year as the starting quarterback for the Aggies, completed over 60 percent of his passes last season while throwing for almost 3,000 yards. His experience in Jimbo Fisher’s offense only presents more challenges for the Commodore defense.
Unlike the offense, however, Vanderbilt returns all starters from last season in what is a battle-tested group under new leadership. After an abysmal season in which the defense allowed over 30 points per game, Vanderbilt fired defensive coordinator Jason Tarver and hired former Appalachian State defensive coordinator Ted Roof. During training camp, both Roof and Head Coach Derek Mason praised the experience and ability of the unit as a whole. If the season were played to its normal schedule, the Commodores would be facing Mercer week 1 as a nice warmup to iron out any kinks. However, that is not the case, and the group must be firing on all cylinders right away against Texas A&M. Vanderbilt will need to lean on star defensive end Dayo Odeybingo and NFL Draft prospect Dimitri Mooree to make game-defining plays in order to disrupt Kellen Mond’s rhythm.