Vanderbilt football mailbag: Should Mike Wright or AJ Swann start against Northern Illinois?

Aria Gerson
Nashville Tennessean

Vanderbilt football came back down to earth Saturday in a  45-25 loss to No. 21 Wake Forest, demonstrating the work there is to do in Clark Lea's rebuild.

Quarterback Mike Wright played poorly and was benched for freshman AJ Swann, further complicating the path forward.

The Tennessean answered reader questions after the Commodores (2-1) fell to the Demon Deacons (2-0):

REPORT CARD:Why it was a D performance overall   in loss to Wake Forest

OPINION:After a tough Vanderbilt loss, a tougher QB decision could await Clark Lea

"Given the surrounding talent and offensive game plan, which QB gives us the best chance to beat Northern Illinois next week?" — @RepublicanDore

I still think it's Mike Wright. Hawaii and Elon were unable to consistently stop him, and Northern Illinois is closer to their caliber to Wake Forest. 

Beyond that, Vanderbilt's offensive line has struggled in pass protection. The run-pass option offense the Commodores have built around Wright allows them to curtail some of those deficiencies. When Swann was in against the Demon Deacons, they didn't always have their first-team defense on the field. A big reason Wright won the job over Swann and Ken Seals in the first place was because of his ability to run an offense that played more to the roster's strengths, and Swann is more of the pocket passer prototype of Seals than the dual threat of Wright.

"Any scenario where Mike Wright plays another position to utilize his speed?" — @timrwebb63

It's a tantalizing thought. He is the type of quarterback who often converts to a different position in the pros or even later in his college career, but position changes don't happen midseason. This year, he's either the starting quarterback or backup quarterback.

"What kind of work does Wake Forest game expose for the SEC schedule? Wake is a good proxy for intraconference." — @ProcReg

There's a lot more work needed on offense. The good news is some of that may come with time and simply getting players back from injuries and suspensions. Running backs Patrick Smith and Rocko Griffin, wide receiver Quincy Skinner Jr. and offensive lineman Julian Hernandez have all missed games so far, and getting them back will help shore up the running game. But Wright also has to be more willing to pass when he needs to, growing in both his ability and confidence to make throws.

The defense was solid and looked prepared. The adjustments after Elon were encouraging, and if that unit can continue to play smart with strong fundamentals, it can keep Vanderbilt in games against the lower tier of the SEC. But the secondary still lacks speed relative to top-flight opponents, something that won't be fixed in one year, and everyone across the defense needs to do a better job tackling.

"Why isn't Jeremy Lucien starting at CB?" — @cusemode44

BJ Anderson was named the starter at corner after having a stronger camp, but Lucien outplayed Anderson against a better opponent. Both of them should play, but Lucien may have earned more opportunities after recording two pass breakups.

"How do you expect the players to respond to a loss going into (Northern Illinois), a team that was in a bowl game last season and has lost their best player for the season?" — @Vandychris5

Responding to losses hasn't been an issue with Lea's teams. The Commodores should show up in DeKalb ready to play. I think they'll see this game as an opportunity, not only to beat a team that won its conference last year but also to top their win total from last year before the end of September.

The fact this game is on the road doesn't concern me, either. Vanderbilt played better on the road than at home last year, and Northern Illinois is not a particularly intimidating environment.

Aria Gerson covers Vanderbilt athletics for The Tennessean. Contact her at or on Twitter @aria_gerson.