Three Matchups to Watch: Vanderbilt vs. UConn

After a brutal 62-0 defeat to the No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs, the Commodores hope to bounce back with a stronger performance against the UConn Huskies.

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Mattigan Kelly

Mike Wright drops back to avoid pressure against Georgia’s pass rush. (Hustler Multimedia/Mattigan Kelly).

Jack Bukovnik

While few expected Vanderbilt’s matchup against the No. 2 ranked Georgia Bulldogs to be competitive this past weekend, the 62-0 dismantling of the Commodores was far worse than anyone could have expected. Regardless, Vanderbilt will move on to play arguably one of the worst teams in the FBS this year, the 0-5 Connecticut Huskies.

If the Commodore faithful believe their season has been brutal so far, it pales in comparison to the Huskies. UConn has suffered multiple shutout losses by 45-plus points, a home loss to an FCS team and the resignation of their head coach. It’s fair to say that this season in Storrs has been just as difficult, which leaves a share of three interesting matchups to look out for as these teams battle it out this week.

Vanderbilt Special Teams vs. Brain Brewton

It’s no secret that the Commodores have struggled on special teams, especially in terms of kickoff returns. The unit currently ranks 119th out of 130 teams in the FBS in kickoff return yards allowed, with opponents averaging 30 yards per return. Despite the many issues in the Huskies’ game this year, their kickoff return team has been somewhat of a bright spot. The unit ranks 23rd in the FBS in kickoff returns, averaging 25.12 yards per return.

Much of this success can be attributed to freshman Brian Brewton. The 5’7’ running back is averaging 31.71 yards per return, including an electric 96-yard return for a touchdown against Army. Fellow freshman running back Devontae Houston is another important contributor to UConn’s kick return team, averaging 24.2 yards on five returns thus far. The Commodores’ kickoff coverage team will have to work hard to contain Brewton and Houston, or else the Huskies will find themselves with better field position and a shot at easy points.

Both teams vs. the chains

No fans expect this matchup to be one of offensive powerhouses, with UConn and Vanderbilt ranking 126th and 129th in the FBS respectively in points per game. There are many aspects to both their games that have led to this sparse offensive production, but few more key than their performances on third down. The Commodores and Huskies convert on only 28.1 percent and 28.4 percent of those situations respectively, ranking in the bottom 10 of the FBS.

The key for both teams to convert and avoid third down situations will have to come on the ground. Like most other team statistics, both teams rank in the bottom 20 in the FBS in rushing yards allowed per game. For Vanderbilt, this means giving running backs Rocko Griffin and Patrick Smith touches early in the game in the place of the injured Re’Mahn Davis. Quarterback Mike Wright has also shown promise running the ball. If Wright is to take a share of snaps under center on Saturday, his legs could be the key in Vanderbilt moving the chains.

Clark Lea vs. Lou Spanos

Not only is this a matchup of two struggling programs, but also of two new head coaches trying to find their footing in their new roles. Lea, a Nashville native and former Vanderbilt fullback, was hired to head the football program after spending two years at the Notre Dame defensive coordinator. Lea’s tenure has gotten off to a shaky start, with blowout losses to Georgia and ETSU, but shown bright spots in the first half of the Stanford game and in the team’s sole win against Colorado State.

Speaking of wins, UConn has yet to tally their first of the season. The team began 0-2 under former head coach Randy Edsall, who had announced that he would retire at the end of the season but suddenly made a mutual decision” with the athletic department to resign midseason. That left defensive coordinator Lou Spanos with the interim head coach tag and a team in a clear rebuilding situation. Under Spanos, the Huskies have gone 0-3, but were competitive in a loss to Wyoming last week that came down to a failed two-point conversion. 

Both coaches desperately need this win given the state of both of their team’s seasons. Look for aggression and energy on both sidelines, as the Huskies and Commodores both look to turn their season around against a struggling opponent. 

Vanderbilt and UConn will kick off at 6:30 p.m. CDT at Vanderbilt stadium this Saturday.