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Wake Forest Football Preview: Vanderbilt Commodores

A familiar opponent comes to Allegacy Stadium for week 2

Vanderbilt v Missouri Photo by Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images

After taking on Elon to get things started, the Deacs move on to a familiar opponent for Week 2 as they host the Vanderbilt Commodores. While Wake has played Vandy just once in the last 10 years, the Deacs have played Vanderbilt 17 times since 1964, making the Commodores Wake’s 2nd most played out of conference FBS opponent (excluding South Carolina and Maryland, who were conference opponents at the time) behind Army.


  • Opponent: Vanderbilt Commodores
  • Date: Saturday, September 9th, 2023
  • Location: Allegacy Federal Credit Union Stadium | Winston Salem, NC
  • Vegas Win Total O/U: 3.5
  • 2022 Record: 5-7, 2-6 in SEC
  • Previous Matchup: Wake 41—Vandy 25 (2022)
  • All time vs Wake Forest: 10-7

Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea has done a really good job taking over a program that looked dead in the water and reviving it. When Lea took over in 2021, the Dores were coming off an 0-9 season and had won 1 conference game in 2 years. In just his second season, Lea had the Dores on the cusp of bowl eligibility and won 2 conference games over Florida and a ranked Kentucky team on the road. That is a pretty impressive turnaround in just a couple of seasons.

While Vanderbilt appeared to take a step forward last season, based on the Vegas win total number of 3.5, it doesn’t seem like people are gambling on Vandy continuing that success this season. That kind of makes sense based on the Commodores having to play in the SEC, where they face a gauntlet pretty much every week once conference play starts. Honestly, I would be shocked if Vandy was favored in a single conference game this season. That means that there is a good chance that the Wake Forest game will be the determining factor in whether Vanderbilt hits the over and gets to 4 wins this season.

Statically, Vanderbilt was not very good last season. If you look at just their national rank on offense and defense, the Dores were 89th in scoring offense (24.6 points per game), 101st in total offense (347 total yards per game), 125th in scoring defense (36 points allowed per game), and 123rd in total defense (461 yards allowed per game). But, when you take into consideration that 1/4th of their games were against Alabama on the road, Georgia on the road, and Tennessee—all teams vying for playoff contention last season—it’s easy to see how those stats might be a little skewed. In those 3 games alone, Vandy was outscored 166-3 and outgained 1,720 to 533 yards. I think most Wake fans know from recent experience that there is a big difference in taking steps towards being competitive in the conference and being able to hang with national championship contenders. If you take out those 3 games, Vandy looks much better on paper, averaging over 400 yards and 30 points per game on offense and giving up just under 30 points and 430 yards per game on defense.

Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, the transfer portal was not exactly kind to the Commodores in the offseason. Starting QB Mike Wright, who lost the starting job after the Wake Forest game but led Vandy to those 2 wins over Kentucky and Florida after AJ Swann got injured, transferred to Mississippi State. Star running back Ray Davis, who finished the season with 1,042 rushing yards and 8 total touchdowns transferred to Kentucky (those in-division transfers always hurt the most). Veteran defensive tackles Malik Langham and Elijah McAllister left for Purdue and Auburn respectively.

Based on where the Commodores were able to hold onto players, Vanderbilt will probably lean more heavily on the passing game this season. QB AJ Swann, who won the starting job as a freshman after an impressive showing against Wake Forest (8-11, 146 yards, 2 TDs) is back, and with him are all 3 of his top receivers from last season. The guy to watch out for in the passing game is senior WR Will Shepphard, who finished last season with 60 receptions for 776 yards and 9 touchdowns, 1 of which came against the Deacs. To go along with the QB and receivers, Vanderbilt returns all but 1 offensive lineman from a group that gave up just 15 sacks last season, making them one of the best groups in the nation in protecting their quarterback.

On the defensive side, the Commodores really struggled against the pass last season. Vandy allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 64% of their passes for nearly 300 yards per game, giving them the 128th ranked pass defense out of 131 FBS teams. From that team, Vandy will have to replace 2 starting corners in Max Worship and Jeremy Lucien, who combined for 8 pass break ups last season. There is definitely going to be some inexperience in the secondary for Vanderbilt this season, so Wake should look to exploit that as much as possible.

The biggest issue for the Vanderbilt defense will be replacing linebacker Anfernee Orji, who basically did it all for the Commodores last season. Orji finished the season with a team high 108 tackles (no other player had more than 60), 7.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception, and 3 forced fumbles. He led the SEC in tackles per game with 9.0 and was named 2nd team All-SEC by Phil Steele. Losing a veteran player who led the team in tackles for 3 straight seasons and had almost 50 more tackles than the next closest player is obviously going to leave a pretty big hole in the defense, and it will be up to returning linebackers Ethan Barr and Kane Patterson, who combined for 81 tackles last season, to fill the void.


The Deacs really didn’t have any trouble with Vandy last season on the road, so I feel fairly confident they can get the win at home this season. With the amount of talent Vanderbilt lost on both offense and defense, I wouldn’t be surprised if they took a small step backwards this season, especially considering the amount of talent most of the teams they have to play are stocked with. I like Wake to win this to move to 2-0 on the season.