Pasquali’s Pix: Vols to win (and cover) during big day in Knoxville

Vanderbilt Athletics photo / Vanderbilt freshman quarterback AJ Swann threw for 255 yards with four touchdown passes in last week’s 38-28 win at Northern Illinois.

There is no shortage of Southeastern Conference football coaches who have produced significantly better second teams compared to their inaugural versions.

Alabama's Nick Saban and Georgia's Kirby Smart are front and center in this conversation, with Saban's 2008 Crimson Tide and Smart's 2017 Bulldogs improving by five wins over the previous seasons. There are also those who have come and gone, with Florida's Urban Meyer and Auburn's Gene Chizik winning national championships in their second years at the helm.

If the adage is true of making your biggest jump from the first to second game of a season, then shouldn't it be true of the first to second year of a coaching tenure?

"I don't want to say that it should be that, but I think the most difficult thing is to change the culture," Saban said Wednesday. "When you inherit a team and are trying to change the culture of the whole team in the first year, you get some buy-in, but you don't get total buy-in.

"As the program progresses, you get more buy-in, and when you get more buy-in, you get more players who are doing things the way you want them to do them. It probably happens to a different degree in every program."

It is happening to some degree right now at Vanderbilt, which has already surpassed its preseason win-loss betting total of 2.5 wins by jumping out to a 3-1 start entering this week's trip to Tuscaloosa. Clark Lea's Commodores have double-digit wins over Hawaii (63-10), Elon (42-31) and Northern Illinois (38-28), with their lone setback a 45-25 loss to No. 21 Wake Forest.

"Clark Lea has done an excellent job of changing the culture there," Saban said. "They've got 14 starters back, and they're scoring 42 points a game, and the biggest difference is the culture, because their guys are playing with a lot of confidence. You can tell that they've got really good team chemistry and that they compete.

"They play hard, and that's what you look at. They execute well. They play smart, and those are the things that jump out at me, and they're all really good things in terms of their team having a chance to be successful."

Last weekend at Northern Illinois, the Commodores gave up a touchdown in the final minute of the first half and in the first 90 seconds of the second half to fall behind 28-14. They responded with a closing 24-0 surge, as freshman quarterback AJ Swann wound up throwing for 255 yards and four touchdowns.

"I was very impressed with Vanderbilt," said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, whose Wildcats host NIU this week. "They got down and didn't flinch. They hung in there and really made plays when they had to. They had some big fourth-down stops, and they converted on fourth down.

"They really played with a lot of poise, and you can tell they're really well-coached and have made significant improvement."


There will be no lacking for youthful exuberance on the sidelines at Williams-Brice Stadium this Saturday, as Shane Beamer's South Carolina Gamecocks host the Charlotte 49ers of Will Healy, the former Boyd Buchanan quarterback who went on to become the FCS national coach of the year at Austin Peay.

"I think a lot of Will," Beamer said Wednesday. "I had always heard of his name before he went to Austin Peay, just from me being in Blacksburg, Virginia, and the time Will spent at Richmond right up the road. He has a relationship with Marcus Satterfield, our offensive coordinator, from their time at Chattanooga and Richmond both.

"With him being up the road in Charlotte and me being here in Columbia, we're a little more in the same area now, and I think a lot of him. He's got great energy. He obviously did a really good job at Austin Peay, and he's doing a nice job building up the Charlotte program as well."


What would it be like losing your first SEC night game inside Tiger Stadium?

Brian Kelly didn't have to find out after LSU recovered from a 13-0 deficit last Saturday against Mississippi State and pulled away for a 31-16 triumph.

"There is no doubt that playing at home in Tiger Stadium is a decided advantage," Kelly said. "The crowd is into it, and it is difficult to get your plays off. You feel rushed, I think, from an offensive perspective.

"It's definitely an advantage, and you can feel it when you're in the stadium."

Pasquali's Pix

UTC at Illinois: The Mocs have never lost to a Big Ten school. Never played one either. Fighting Bielemas 30, Mocs 21.

Kent State at Georgia: The Bulldogs have outscored their first three opponents 82-3 in the opening half. Bulldogs 59, Golden Flashes 6.

Missouri at Auburn: Eli Drinkwitz is 13-13 and Bryan Harsin 8-8 with their respective Tigers, and neither is on an upward trajectory. West Tigers 24, East Tigers 19.

Notre Dame at North Carolina: Capsuling college football in 2022, the Tar Heels outlasted Appalachian State, which won at Texas A&M, which bought its No. 1 signing class, according to Saban. Tar Heels 27, Fighting Irish 24.

Florida at Tennessee: Hard to fathom given the mess left by Jeremy Pruitt 20 months ago, but the Volunteers could be a top-10 team next week. Vols 38, Gators 23.

Georgia Tech at UCF: College football doesn't have two bigger Waffle House junkies than Geoff Collins and Gus Malzahn. Knights 37, Yellow Jackets 16.

Arkansas vs. Texas A&M: Jimbo Fisher sure provided some offseason spice, but his Aggies have been sleep-inducing since the season kicked off. Aggies 20, Razorbacks 16.

Vanderbilt at Alabama: The Commodores are among just five FBS teams to have collected two road wins already this season. Crimson Tide 45, Commodores 7.

Other picks:

Ole Miss 38, Tulsa 9

Kentucky 31, Northern Illinois 12

LSU 45, New Mexico 6

South Carolina 40, Charlotte 21

Ohio State 49, Wisconsin 18

Michigan 31, Maryland 10

Clemson 27, Wake Forest 24

Penn State 34, Central Michigan 3

Mississippi State 40, Bowling Green 7

Memphis 42, North Texas 15

Miami 48, MTSU 13

Oregon 29, Washington State 20

N.C. State 56, UConn 7

Oklahoma 33, Kansas State 16

Florida State 38, Boston College 19

Utah 30, Arizona State 13

USC 34, Oregon State 27

Last week:

Winners — 23

Harsins — 2

Pasquali got his first bingo last Saturday — Notre Dame 24-17 over California — and is 66-9 overall (88.0%) this season.

Contact David Paschall at