An hour and 40 minute lightning delay made Vanderbilt wait to open the 2023 season. And we won’t say that cynical Vanderbilt fans’ concerns that this would play out like the last time this happened in a season opener were totally unfounded, not after new kicker Jacob Borcila whiffed the extra point on Vanderbilt’s first touchdown of the game, and certainly not after Hawaii responded with a 6-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to go ahead 7-6 in the first quarter. This wasn’t happening again, was it?
Then Jayden McGowen took the ensuing kickoff 97 yards. Then Hawaii went three-and-out. Then AJ Swann orchestrated a masterful 8-play, 84-yard drive with Will Sheppard finding paydirt on the first play of the second quarter, and Vanderbilt was ahead 21-7.
And yet, in spite of the win, there was a lot to be dissatisfied with when you consider that Hawaii was a 3-10 team that Vanderbilt beat 63-10 last season. Perhaps the Rainbow Warriors have improved, but the knockout blow never really came; a fourth-down touchdown pass to true freshman London Humphreys early in the fourth quarter did, briefly, give Vanderbilt a three-touchdown advantage. The cornerbacks still got burned deep far too often; the defense couldn’t get off the field when it needed to, giving up three brutal fourth-down conversions; Hawaii was a fumble at the half-yard line and an interception in the end zone away from going into the half tied. And after Vanderbilt let Hawaii get the ball back down a touchdown with two minutes left, De’Rickey Wright’s second interception of the game was what sealed it.
And not only were last year’s bugaboos all there, this time around, there were some new ones. Minus sacks, Vanderbilt ran the ball 20 times for 70 yards — there wasn’t any explosiveness, but there also wasn’t even the consistent 4-5 yards that Ray Davis could get you. Wright’s two interceptions were the highlight for a defense that otherwise was giving up 351 yards passing and only six incompletions all night.
There were positives: I thought the passing game looked good; AJ Swann’s 19-for-30 line with 258 yards and three touchdowns was fine. The receivers looked good. The defense, though, appears not to have been fixed. Vanderbilt will host Alabama A&M next Saturday and then we’ll get a better sense for where this team is against Wake Forest in a couple of weeks. Right now, the commentariat’s not happy.