Yes, I will admit it. She was thinking about it, and I bet he wasn’t the only one.
Same old Vandy.
Because that was the one that showed up for Saturday night’s season opener in Hawaii. In the first 10 minutes of the game, the same old Vandy gave up a 37-yard touchdown without even touching the running back. Same old Vandy lost his first possession on a silly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and his second possession on a fourth-and-five thrown out of bounds by quarterback Mike Wright.
Vanderbilt had been a 9.5-point favorite to beat rebuilding Hawaii. But the same old Vandy reduced that margin to 1.5 during the first quarter.
Oh, so little faith!
And that easy money.
It might not mean much in the long run this SEC season that Vanderbilt came to life and dominated a bad non-conference opponent with a convincing 63-10 score.
[ How Vanderbilt football exorcised the demons of 2021 to annihilate Hawaii in season opener ]
There’s too much to do with early games anyway, and it’ll be hard for these Commodores to resist enjoying this one too much.
Because it was very different. Very funny, for once. For all that I loved about this nightly showcase, above all, it left no doubt about the following certainty: This was NO the same old Vandy.
These Commodores instead looked down on that stigma for an instant and tossed it aside, along with many Hawaiian players. And they did it with a lot of people watching too. A lot of hungry football fans, and a lot of recruits, surely stayed up late to watch this Week Zero thrashing.
They saw that Vanderbilt isn’t just a better team in Clark Lea’s second season. It is a much more aggressive team. A much tougher team, physically and mentally.
This was what an SEC team was supposed to look like against Mountain West.
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Vanderbilt controlled the lines of scrimmage, rushing for 404 yards and allowing 108. He scored two defensive touchdowns on fumbles and had a fourth-and-1 run early in the third quarter, the play that said aloha to the competitive part of the night. .
From there, it got out of hand in a hurry. Vanderbilt outscored Hawaii 35-0 in the third quarter. Wright had 309 yards of total offense (163 rushing, 146 passing) in roughly three quarters before giving the ball to first-year backup AJ Swann.
Hawaii collapsed in the second half, for sure. But that doesn’t take away from how important this was for Vanderbilt, who, as you probably remember, lost 20 to ETSU at the start of last season.
Can you imagine a further improvement from one start of the season to the next?
“With the pain we experienced a year ago and having an early setback, there was a different feeling on the pitch,” Lea said. “The team responded offensively. We responded defensively. I’m proud of the guys and I’m happy for them.”
Lea resisted making too much of a win, saying it was “not an end point but a start.” Wright echoed the coach of him: “We’re not there yet.”
But at least the Commodores are finally on the road. In that way, this was a turning point for Lea’s tenure and for a program that needed credible reasons for hope and confidence.
I also felt won. I felt like this win affirmed the improvement Lea has been selling since the time last season ended, and the investment it took to get there.
It was a reward for veteran players who bought and stayed.
Older people like linebacker Anfernee Orji and safety Maxwell Worship. A collapse of those two appeared to be responsible for Hawaii’s touchdown run. But then Worship forced a fumble that created Orji’s 28-yard touchdown late in the first quarter.
“That play really set us up to really do what we came here to do, and that was make a statement,” Worship said. “And that was what we did”.
It was a great play that changed the game. You just had no idea there would be so many more. Vanderbilt had more highlights in this game than in the first half of last season.
Clearly, it’s a different Vanderbilt. what different? We’ll see. There is still a 21-game SEC losing streak to contend with. There is still a difficult schedule and a long season ahead.
But a great opening track can sometimes shape an album.
In the City of Music, the 2022 Vandy season has already gotten more interesting.
Contact Tennessee sports columnist Gentry Estes at [email protected] and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.