Vanderbilt Goes To ‘Special Place,’ Blows Out Hawaii By 53 To Open Season

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Look for Hawaii director of player development Jeff Reinebold not to be making any more pre-game comments.

“This is a special place. Vanderbilt has no idea what they’re getting into,” Reinebold said last week of Hawaii’s season opener against the Commodores in 9,346-seat Clarence T.C. Ching Complex – a temporary home for the Rainbow Warriors as 50,000-seat Aloha Stadium was condemned in 2020.

“I cannot wait for that moment when we come out into that stadium,” Reinebold said in a video that made its way to Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea.

And then the Commodores proceeded to throw Hawaii somewhere over the rainbow for a 63-10 season-opening victory in front of a sell-out crowd in Honolulu.

Vanderbilt quarterback Mike Wright. (Getty Images)

“Our head coach literally showed us that video about 10 times throughout the week,” said Vanderbilt senior safety Maxwell Worship, who forced a fumble late in the first quarter that senior linebacker Anfernee Orji returned 28 yards for a touchdown and 14-7 lead in the turning point of the game.

“Even when we got here, during team dinners, that would be up on the screen,” Worship said. “Everything since we’ve been here (since last Sunday) has been moved as motivation. Coach Lea and all the coaches made sure to really use all those things as motivation. We wanted to set a statement. We wanted the whole world to see we’re a different team this year. We’re going to earn everybody’s respect this year.”

Vanderbilt clearly made a strong start toward that goal.


The Commodores (1-0) won a game for the first time since a 30-28 victory over Connecticut on Oct. 2. Seven straight losses followed as Lea finished 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the Southeastern Conference in his first season after leaving the defensive coordinator post at Notre Dame.

“Obviously pleased with the result tonight,” Lea said. “I thought from the pain that we experienced a year ago, there was a different feel on the field. I’m excited to celebrate a win with them here in the opening game.”

Record-Setting Night For Vanderbilt

The 11-hour flight back to Nashville may fly by. Just look at the records the Commodores can read about over the Pacific Ocean.

  • Vanderbilt scored its most points in a game since a 63-8 win over Davidson in 1969.
  • The 53-point win was Vanderbilt’s most lopsided in a non-conference road game since winning 68-0 at Louisville in 1941 when the Commodores finished 8-2.
  • Quarterback Mike Wright’s 87-yard touchdown run for a 49-10 lead in the third quarter was the second longest run in Vanderbilt history.
  • The Commodores’ 53-point margin of victory was their largest since a 58-0 win over Presbyterian in 2012.
  • Vanderbilt’s 35 points in the third quarter was its most since also scoring 35 in a 38-3 win over Austin Peay in 2013.

“This is a program that we’re building,” Lea said. “It’s an identity we’re building. It’s something that we want to expect.”


Wright stole the show in Vanderbilt’s earliest season opener in history as he completed 13 of 21 passes for 146 yards with two touchdowns and rushed 13 times for 163 yards with the 87-yard touchdown. He hit wide receiver Will Sheppard for a 15-yard touchdown and 56-10 lead late in the third quarter. His 1-yard touchdown pass to Sheppard in the first quarter tied the game, 7-7.

The Commodores gained 601 yards in all with 404 on the ground. Vanderbilt averaged 9.2 yards a carry, which narrowly missed the school record.

‘Same Old Vandy’? Not Quite

Tailback Re’Mahn Davis rushed nine times for 87 yards with a 12-yard touchdown for a 35-10 lead late in the third quarter. Tailback Rocko Griffinadded 63 yards on five carries with a 10-yard touchdown for a 28-10 lead in the third quarter. Tailback Chase Gillespie also gained 63 yards on 11 rushes.

Vanderbilt’s defense scored a second touchdown when defensive tackle Elijah McAllister forced a fumble that safety C.J. Taylor returned 14 yards for a 42-10 lead in the third quarter.

It looked like “Same Old Vandy” in the early going as Hawaii drove 75 yards in eight plays with the opening kickoff for a 7-0 led with 12:18 to go in the first quarter. Tailback Dedrick Parson scored on a 37-yard run through the heart of the Commodores’ defense as its safeties appeared to be lost on an island. And suddenly the 10-point favorites from Vanderbilt looked in trouble.

“We came out and handled some early adversity,” Lea said. “And I thought we really played well. I was excited to see them battle back.”

Vanderbilt hosts Elon on Saturday and can be 2-0 for the first time since 2018.

“Once we get back to Nashville, we’ll shift focus pretty quickly,” Lea said.

Written by Glenn Guilbeau


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