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Alabama Football vs. Vanderbilt Preview: When the Commodores have the ball

After years of wandering in the dark, the Vandy offense is showing signs of life

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Look, we’ve all made jokes. Vanderbilt has been the worst team in the SEC year in and year out for years now (and really overall for the history of the conference). But the last few have been REALLY bad.

Seemingly out of the blue, though, the ‘Dores are starting to score some points. Through 4 games, they’re putting up 42 points per game, good for 21st in the country. And while Hawaii and Elon aren’t exactly stiff competition, the Vandy of last year would have struggled with even those teams. And they still put up some points on #23 Wake Forest as well as beat the ever-dangerous Northern Illinois Huskies.

They run a similar scheme to what Alabama ran under Steve Sarkisian, with a little more QB runs mixed in. At QB, Mike Wright returned from 2021 as a dangerous scrambler, but found himself replaced during the Wake Forest loss by freshman AJ Swann, who then got his first start against NIU and put together a tremendous highlight reel of throws. While Wright is a tremendous athlete with the ball in his hands, Swann brings a downfield element to the passing game and can make some absolutely ridiculous passes while dodging around in the pocket... Though he’s also prone to launch some into dangerous spots.

At receiver, junior Will Sheppard is a 6’3” sideline threat who Swann is more than happy to trust down the sidelines any time he’s 1v1 with a cornerback. Sheppard has already racked up 313 yards and 7 touchdowns. His running mate is the diminutive freshman, Jayden McGowan, who is pretty much the polar opposite. He’s a tiny speedster who’s an absolute menace to tackle and had 244 yards of his own.

The running game is an even bigger part of the Commodore offense, as they’ve racked up 217 yards per game on a 5.8 yards per carry clip. A lot of that was QB runs with Wright, but senior RB Ray Davis is a stocky back who excels at tiptoeing around and through tackles for a consistent 5 yards every time. His backup, Chase Gillespie, is a similar player, if a bit smaller and quicker. Vandy uses them out of the pistol for a good chunk of the time, and both of them are adeptly taught to look for cutback lanes. They also like using a triple tight end set and then running power toss sweeps to let Davis sort through traffic to find the best hole.

The Vandy offense has a good bit of spunk to them, and will challenge Alabama’s defense more than most Tide fans expect. Especially with AJ Swann being a bit of a wildcard as a gunslinging freshman with only one game of film on him. I expect a couple of touchdowns from the Commodores on legitimate drives (with maybe a crazy scramble pass propping one of them up). My prediction is 20 points... Enough to make Alabama fans ornery next week.