Mason expecting more of Commodore team after dominant first week

Jared Pinkney drags a defender after a catch in Vanderbilt's opening victory over MTSU on September 2, 2017. Photo by Claire Barnett.

It was nothing short of a dominating performance by Derek Mason’s Vanderbilt Commodores in Week One against Middle Tennessee State.

A familiar, winning formula—consistent stops on defense and a few big plays on offense—marked Vanderbilt’s third consecutive victory over the Blue Raiders, leaving fans cautiously optimistic as the Commodores march ahead into a tougher part of their schedule in the coming weeks.

Still, rather than celebrate his team’s most recent success or forecast into the difficult schedule ahead, Coach Mason instead preferred to dwell on some of Saturday’s shortcomings ahead of their meeting with Alabama A&M this week.

“I thought we left a lot out there Saturday night,” Mason said in Tuesday’s press conference. “So many good things happened and that’s great, but I’m not going to pat guys on the back for doing their job. Nowadays, everyone wants a pat on the back. The pat on the back is the win.”

Specifically, Mason highlighted an imbalanced offense and an uninspired special teams unit as two areas of concern.

“In 2017, it’s a different game,” he said. “You’ve got to play good defense, you’ve got to score, you’ve got to win on special teams. And I thought, for us, I’d give our special teams a C minus. We have to be better.”

Yes, here at Vanderbilt, even the football coaches give grades. And Derek Mason is a tough professor. But does his offense and special teams deserve such a tough review?

On the surface, perhaps not. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur was efficient with his passes, he didn’t turn the ball over, and Ralph Webb was a weapon receiving passes from the backfield. The special teams unit didn’t cough the ball up, didn’t let MTSU return a single kickoff, was able to flip the field in a few tough spots, and even knocked down an extra point attempt at the end of the game. Pretty solid game.

On the other hand, it may have been the absence of anything particularly remarkable that merited Mason’s criticism. Kicker Tommy Openshaw missed his only field goal attempt of the night, and the special teams unit as a whole did not contribute to any scoring, virtually being offset by the special teams of MTSU.

Offensively, Shurmur could’ve torn apart a blitzing MTSU defense, but he instead ended up with a modest 296 passing yards, although he could have had more if the offense had not slowed itself down in the second half.

There are a couple of narratives to last Saturday’s win, and Coach Mason is taking the least flattering one.

For a Vanderbilt team that will be considerably undersized against some tough SEC opponents like Alabama, little advantages become important. If Coach Mason has anything to say about it, expect more highlights from the special teams in the coming weeks. If the defense blitzes like they did at MTSU, expect bigger numbers on offense.

At the end of it all, though, expect another tough-love grade from Professor Mason.

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