Head Coach: Derek Mason (6-7, 24-38 overall)
2018 Record: 6-7
At one point and time, it was a given that the Tennessee Volunteers would get a win against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
That time has certainly passed. Vanderbilt has won five of its last seven games against the Vols and now, in 2019, the final game of the year is anything but a guaranteed win for Tennessee.
This run includes a three-game losing streak dating back to 2016. Can the Vols avoid making it a four-game losing streak?
Let’s dive into our final 2019 preview in order to get an idea of what to (somewhat) expect come November 30th.
Coaching: Even though Derek Mason hasn’t lit the Vanderbilt world on fire like his predecessor James Franklin, he’s managed to be a steady, reliable coach that has improved every year.
It’s wild to think that he’s entering his sixth season as head coach. Man, time certainly flies.
Mason has led the Commodores to bowl games twice in his tenure, the most recent being a 45-38 loss to the Baylor Bears in the Texas Bowl last year. But not only is he getting to bowl games, he’s sending kids to the NFL, as well.
The program appears to be in good hands with Mason and it’ll be interesting to see how the 2019 season plays out under his watch.
Gerry Gdowski enters his first season as offensive coordinator after coaching quarterbacks for the past three seasons. He was responsible for Kyle Shurmur’s development, who is one of the best quarterbacks in school history.
Mason was able to retain Jason Tarver as defensive coordinator, who is now entering his second season as head of the defense. He will also coach inside linebackers.
Tarver has both professional and collegiate experience. He was a senior defensive assistant with San Francisco 49ers before coming to Nashville. Vanderbilt ranked 99th in total defense in 2018, so one would think Tarver will be looking for a way to improve his defense in 2019.
Devin Fitzsimmons is the new guy on the staff and will coordinate special teams while coaching tight ends. He comes over from the Detroit Lions, who boasted the second-best kickoff coverage unit in 2018. He also helped rookie Jamal Agnew receive All-Pro recognition as a punt returner in 2017.
Offense: Kyle Shurmur is gone and as of right now, it’s anyone’s guess as to who the starting quarterback will be once the season begins.
Grad-transfer Riley Neal looks to have the upper hand at the moment. The Ball State graduate had a pretty nice career playing for the Cardinals, but life will be different in the SEC. Don’t count out redshirt junior Deuce Wallace, who is back after a suspension that cost him the 2018 season.
Allan Walters, a talented redshirt freshman, could make some noise in camp, but Vanderbilt fans will have to wait and see on that one.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn is an absolute stud at running back. He would’ve single-handedly beat the Vols last year if he didn’t leave the game early due to injury. Jamauri Wakefield should be just fine as a spell back after averaging 4.5 yards per clip on the ground in 2018. But it gets a bit shaky behind those two with freshman Ja’Veon Marlow and Keyon Brooks filling out the group.
Vanderbilt’s receivers are probably the strongest group on offense. Kalija Lipscomb returns for his senior year and C.J. Bolar will look to build upon a solid 2018 season that ended with 6 catches for 93 yards against the Vols. Vandy has plenty of depth behind these two in Chris Pierce, Cam Johnson, and Amir Abdur-Rahman, so it will be fun to see how the rest of the roster shakes out over the season.
The offensive line lost multiple starters from a year ago. C Bruno Reagan, RG Egidio DellaRipa, and LT Justin Skule are all gone, leaving multiple holes up front. Vanderbilt has plenty of upperclassmen that can take over, but who will step up is anyone’s guess at this point.
The tight end position is in great shape with Jared Pinkney’s return to action. Pinkney is one of the best tight ends in the country and will carry the group, but expect plenty of competition behind him for a backup role.
Defense: Vanderbilt lost a lot of talent on defense, but this is Mason’s forte, so one would expect business to carry on as usual.
Dayo Odeyingbo, Drew Birchmeier, and Cameron Tidd return to the defensive line, but they won’t be enough if this unit wants to improve upon last year’s performance. That’s why grad-transfer Eddie Zinn-Turner, JUCO transfer Brandon Maddox, and true freshman Daevion Davis were brought in.
Dimitri Moore and Alston Orji are wildcards at the linebacker spot. Moore finished second on the team with 84 tackles in 2018 and they sky is the limit for Orji, who was the top recruit in the 2018 class. They’ll have to replace Jordan Griffin and Josh Smith, which won’t be easy, but if anyone can do it, these two can.
The Dores lost some star power in the secondary, but should have plenty of depth to make up for it in 2019. I’m not saying any of these guys will be at a Joejuan Williams-type level, but they’ll be good enough - and deep enough - to make the transition a lot easier. It will also be interesting to see how the corners shape up, considering eight of the 13 players are underclassmen.