Vandy, CSU hit reset after rocky start

Field Level Media

September 07, 2021 at 10:57 pm.

For Vanderbilt and Colorado State, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Coming off decisive opening week home losses to FCS competition, the Commodores and Rams try to pick up the pieces against each other Saturday night in Fort Collins, Colo.

Vanderbilt’s first game under new coach Clark Lea quickly morphed from a festive occasion into one illustrating just how far behind the rest of the Southeastern Conference it truly is. It was thumped 23-3 by East Tennessee State on Saturday night in Nashville, giving the Buccaneers $415,000 in addition to a one-sided win.

While Lea might internally wonder just how long this year will be after that outcome, he remains outwardly optimistic.

“This has always been about the vision for the future at Vanderbilt,” he said. “It’s never been just about playing East Tennessee State on September 4. This is about how we build this program to sustain success over time. This can be a critical learning point for everyone involved as we move forward.”

Lea isn’t the only coach playing the long game after a shaky opener. Colorado State’s Steve Addazio is in the same position after watching his team take a 42-23 beatdown on Sept. 3 against South Dakota State.

“Big picture, I’m trying to build and develop a really strong foundational program that’s here to last,” he said. “I told our team we’ve got our backs up against the wall, and when I’ve got my back up against the wall, I’m coming out swinging.”

Of course, the Rams were also playing a team with FBS skills and size, if not pedigree. The Jackrabbits played for the FCS title in May and returned virtually every starter off that team. They are ranked No. 2 in FCS Top 25 poll.

Still, they have 23 fewer scholarships than Colorado State. But that was never a factor. The Rams trailed 35-10 after three quarters and were outrushed 240-124 in front of the fifth-largest crowd in Canvas Stadium history.

This week’s game should be perhaps the truest test of one of the oldest cliches in a coach’s manual, which says that teams always make their greatest improvements from their first to second game.

“We have to make the choice to win the response,” Lea said.