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Wake Forest Football Preview: Vanderbilt Commodores

The Deacs head down to Nashville in week 2

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The second game of the season will see the Deacs head to Nashville, Tennessee to face off against an old rival. From 2005 to 2013, Wake and Vanderbilt played 7 times, making the Demon Deacons the Commodores most frequent out of conference opponent. Over that span, Vandy is 4-3 against Wake Forest, and finished the series out on a 3-game win streak. The series ended in 2014 when the SEC decided that Vanderbilt should play Tennessee in the final week of the season every year, which bumped Wake from the schedule. The Commodores have not had a winning season since the remaining games were cancelled.


  • Opponent: Vanderbilt
  • Date: 11 AM Saturday, September 10th, 2022
  • Location: Vanderbilt Stadium | Nashville, Tennessee
  • Vegas Insider Total Wins: 2.5
  • 2021 Record: 2-10 (0-8)
  • Previous Matchup: Wake 21— Vandy 23 (2013)
  • All time vs Wake Forest: 10-6

In the nearly 10 years since Wake Forest last played Vanderbilt, things have not been going well for the Commodores. Since the end of the 2013 season, Vandy has more 0-win seasons (1) than winning seasons (0). In that same time span, Vandy has won 1 or fewer conference games in 5 out of the 8 seasons, for a grand total of 10 conference wins total since Wake’s last game in Nashville. More recently, Vanderbilt has won just 5 games over the past 3 seasons, and their last conference win came after beating Missouri on October 19th, 2019. Last season they kicked things off by getting blown out at home 23-3 against ETSU—the Bucs did end up finishing 11-2, but not scoring a touchdown at home against an FCS team is an all-time tough look. They went on to win 2 games against 3-9 Colorado State and 1-11 UConn—a team that lost to Holy Cross by double digits. While that may speak to the current state of the program, none of those facts are going to matter when the two teams take the field.

On offense, last season was a struggle for the Commodores. Vanderbilt only managed to put up 15.8 points per game, giving them the third worst offense in the nation (only UConn and New Mexico were worse). Things weren’t much better in the yards department—Vandy was 118th in the nation gaining just 312 yards per game. Last season, they used a very balanced approach with 34 pass attempts and 35 rush attempts per game. The offense is mostly shotgun no-huddle, but the Dores use a much slower pace than many teams running the no-huddle offense. In 2021, Vanderbilt was 51st in the nation with just over 69 plays per game—that’s not a ball control offense, but it's not going to come anywhere close to matching the speed of a team like Wake Forest.

One of the troubles for the offense was that Vanderbilt seemed to struggle picking a quarterback last season, with both Ken Seals and Mike Wright seeing action in 8+ games. As with most cases, the two-quarterback system did not work out very well. Seals finished the season completing 57% of his passes for 1,181 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions, while Wright completed just 53% of his passes for 1,042 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. Wright did have the added bonus of being the second leading rusher on the team with 376 yards, which is likely why he was named the starting QB at the end of spring practice.

The run game was not much better, as the Commodores were 104th in the nation in rushing yards per game with just 122. Their 3.5 yards per carry for the season was also one of the worst in the nation, though that might be slightly skewed by the 28 sacks the offensive line allowed. Junior Rocko Griffin should be the feature back for Vandy this season—as a sophomore he led the Commodores in rushing with 517 yards and 4 touchdowns and finished the season with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games. With Wright and Griffin in the backfield, I would not be shocked to see Vandy go for a more run heavy attack this season.

On defense, Vanderbilt is in a similar situation to Wake Forest—a new defensive coordinator after a not-so-great season. The Commodore defense was one of the worst in the nation last year, giving up over 457 yards and 35 points per game. They allowed opponents to complete 65% of their passes and run for over 5.5 yards per carry, which resulted in opponents averaging 6.8 yards per play against Vanderbilt last season—that’s almost 1 yard per play worse than Wake’s defense last season. New DC Nick Howell should be pretty familiar with Wake Forest’s unique offensive style from his time as the Virginia DC with Bronco Mendenhall. He’s got his work cut out for him, but he does have some decent talent to work with, including senior LB Anfernee Orji, who was 12 in the SEC in tackles last season with 92 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and 1 sack.


It’s very difficult to turn around a winless program in just 2 seasons. After a 2-win season last year in Clark Lea’s first year as head coach, I don’t really expect Vanderbilt to be that much better this season. Even without Sam Hartman, the Wake Forest offense should just be able to outscore Vanderbilt with relative ease and hopefully a new and improved Deacon defense will be able to shut down what was a pretty anemic offense last season. I think Wake should take this one easily to move to 2-0.