Week 0 provided an opportunity for Vanderbilt to be the primary focus of football in the Volunteer State. Coming off a 5-7 season that saw tremendous improvement, Commodore fans have dreams of finally making a bowl game in 2023.
However, much of the offseason attention had been surrounding the slow progress of the FirstBank Stadium construction that nearly forced Vandy to play at a local high school to start the season. After scrambling to remedy the situation, the Commodores hosted the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors in front of a half-capacity crowd of a little over 20,000.
To make matters worse, lightning filled the sky, delaying kickoff by nearly two hours. Some were concerned the microscopic scoreboard suspended by cranes may become susceptible to the conditions and create a hazard for players and fans. The adverse weather would eventually pass, and all was forgotten as the Dores cruised down the field on the opening drive for a touchdown. Surely this would be a repeat of last year’s 63-10 blowout in Honolulu and oddsmakers would lose their shirt on the -17-point spread.
Yet, this Hawai’i team was different. These Rainbow Warriors had some dog in them. A back and forth first half ensued as Vandy took a 21-14 lead into the break. After halftime, the SEC minnows started to take control and built a 35-14 lead early in the fourth quarter when AJ Swann connected with London Humphreys for his third TD pass of the evening.
Okay, it was game over, right? Not even close. Hawai’i answered minutes later with a TD of their own and staged a critical stop before scoring again to cut the deficit to 35-28. The Commodores had a chance to slam the door shut but were forced to punt with just over two minutes left to set up a photo finish.
The drama, however, was cut short when Vandy brought the heat and forced Brayden Schager to misfire. Senior De’RickeyWright came up with his second pick of the night; this one clicking the game. A win was a win for Vanderbilt, but they will need to improve dramatically to have a shot to get to six wins and bowl eligibility.
As week 1 creeps in, all eyes fall on the Volunteers coming off an 11-2 season and an Orange Bowl shellacking of Clemson. Tennessee fans hope Quarterback Joe Milton can ride the momentum of that game into his first full season starting for the Vols. Josh Heupel has laid the foundation for a juggernaut program in Knoxville and this season will be the ultimate test. Losing the likes of Hendon Hooker, Jalin Hyatt, and Darnell Wright to the NFL draft, along with defensive stud Trevon Flowers has left holes this Tennessee team will need to plug fast. Heupel and staff have crushed it on the recruiting trail with a top-10 recruiting class and landed key portal transfers that have most experts believing they can return to a New Year’s Six Bowl in 2023. Their journey towards back-to-back double digit win seasons begins this Saturday in downtown Nashville at Nissan Stadium versus Virginia. The 11 AM CT kickoff will surprisingly be just the fifth-ever matchup between these border state teams, and the first since the 1991 Sugar Bowl where the Vols famously scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win 23-22.