The game: Oct. 13 in Nashville.
Last year’s result: Feleipe Franks threw for 185 yards in relief of the injured Luke Del Rio and true freshman running back Malik Davis rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Gators to a 38-24 victory in The Swamp. The Gators held the Commodores to 46 yards rushing.
Key players returning: QB Kyle Shurmur (2,823 yards passing and 26 TDs in 2017), RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, CB Joejuan Williams, LB Charles Wright, WR Kalija Lipscomb (37 receptions for 610 yards and eight TDs), TE Jared Pinkney (22 receptions for 279 yards and three TDs).
Key losses: RB Ralph Webb (831 yards rushing and 10 TDs), WR Trent Sherfield (50 receptions for 729 yards and five TDs), WR C.J. Duncan (52 receptions for 517 yards and five TDs), LB Owen Burks, DT Nifae Lealao, S Ryan White.
Scouting the offense: Despite the presence of Ralph Webb, the school’s all-time leading rusher, Vanderbilt’s rushing game ground to a halt last season and the Commodores had to rely almost exclusively on Kyle Shurmur’s arm. Vandy will try to revive its ground game with running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, a transfer from Illinois, and an experienced line that returns four starters. The Commodores must replace Shurmur’s two favorite targets, wide receivers C.J. Duncan and Trent Sherfield. Junior Kalija Lipscomb figures to be the go-to guy.
Scouting the defense: Derek Mason is one of college football’s best defensive minds, but the Commodores slipped badly last year, finishing 65th in the nation in total defense. Vandy was vulnerable against both the run and the pass. Rebounding this season will be a tough challenge, with only four starters returning, led by senior defensive end Dare Odeyingbo and standout Joejuan Williams.
Scouting the special teams: It’s a new start here, with Vanderbilt having to replace both its kicker and punter. True freshman Javan Rice likely will be the kicker, while the new punter is expected to be graduate transfer Parker Thome. Lipscomb is a solid return man.
“For you media out there, and there’s been media out there that spoke to the idea that our game is one to be overlooked, watch out. I’m telling you right now, this team is going to show up. We’re going to play well. We are going to come out of the blocks and play the way we need to, and we’re going to finish this the way we should, the Vanderbilt way.” — Derek Mason