Vanderbilt football survives scare against Hawaii, wins season opener

3-3 minutes 8/27/2023
Vanderbilt football got a scare Saturday against Hawaii in its season-opening game at FirstBank Stadium. The defense struggled to prevent chunk plays, but the Commodores were able to escape Week 0 with a 35-28 victory under third-year coach Clark Lea.
Vanderbilt won its season opener for the second straight season.
The Commodores played a sloppy game after inclement weather delayed kickoff by 1 hour, 40 minutes. The defense struggled mightily to defend downfield passes. Hawaii, perhaps playing inspired following the deadly wildfires that devastated the Hawaiian island Maui, outgained the Commodores 391-297, but Vanderbilt made several big plays on offense and defense to offset any losses, including two De'Rickey Wright interceptions, a Jayden McGowan 97-yard kickoff return touchdown and a red-zone stop on fourth down.
Wright's second interception of the game secured the victory with 1:43 to play.
The two starting quarterbacks, Vanderbilt's AJ Swann and Hawaii's Brayden Schager, combined for just four incompletions in 29 attempts in the first half. Both quarterbacks repeatedly had open throws.
As productive as the passing offenses were for both teams, the run games struggled. Vanderbilt's offensive line struggled to consistently generate space for its trio of running backs: Patrick Smith, Chase Gillespie and Sedrick Alexander. Hawaii, too, gained very little in its run game but still outrushed the Commodores 40-39.
While Swann was successful passing, finishing 19-for-30 for 238 yards and three TDs, but he did take some sacks.
Will Sheppard caught two of Swann's touchdown passes.
During one play in the third quarter, Swann was under duress and scrambled before finding Gamarion Carter near midfield. The play was originally called for an illegal forward pass but overturned on review. Later in the drive, Swann found freshman London Humphreys for a fourth-and-7 touchdown.
Continuing a trend from the 2022 season, Vanderbilt's pass defense struggled to generate pass rush and adequately defend downfield.
Schager had plenty of time to throw and frequently tested the Commodores' defensive backs downfield.
Vanderbilt did make a few big plays on defense. Wright's first interception came in the end zone, BJ Anderson had a pass breakup deep downfield and Nate Clifton had a key quarterback hurry on a fourth-down stop in the third quarter.

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