The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Back to Basics: Vanderbilt keeps it simple to prepare for Gamecocks

Photo by Ziyi Liu.

In football, you have to do the easy things well before you move on to the hard stuff.

For the Commodores, they had to go back to the drawing board to start preparing for South Carolina.

After giving up over 1300 rushing yards in the last four weeks, the Commodore defense is looking to get back to the things that made them one of the toughest defenses in the SEC. However, it’s not some advanced technical issue that they’re dealing with. It’s not some difficult football concept.

It’s the basic fundamental football play: the tackle.

According to head coach Derek Mason, you’ll see a lot of problems solve themselves once the tackling gets solved.

“Last week, the bye week, was a really good week,” he said at Tuesday’s press conference. “We got back to fundamentals and digging into exactly who we are, what we want to be and working towards that.”

In a way, this week was a reset. Coming off of four straight losses, Vanderbilt needed to do some soul-searching and start fresh. With five games left in the season and three wins needed to qualify for a bowl game, the opportunity is there for Vanderbilt to right the ship.

It all starts with getting those fundamentals back.

“For me personally, I’ve looked at the yards and it is what it is,” he said. “We didn’t tackle very well. There is no magic drill. I’ve been doing drill work for four and a half weeks. I’ve been doing drill work for 19 weeks if you go back to the summer. It’s about “Do you believe it?’ It’s about whether or not you’re committed to it. If a golfer is not committed to a golf shot, is he going to make the shot? No, he’s not going to make the shot. If you’re not committed to making the tackle, you’re not going to make the tackle. You’ve got to bring your eyes, hands and feet.”

In the slog of a long season against tough SEC opponents, the complexity of the game can make players lose sight of what it means to be a Vanderbilt player, and how to play the basic game of football. Mason said his players might have started overthinking some things out on the field.

“I’m coaching the same things I’ve been coaching since I got here,” Mason said. “It hasn’t changed. You know what changed? Their temperament. When it’s all said and done, it’s about doing what you know how to do. It’s about believing in your process. If you think the outcome is going to just happen by itself and you’re going to go up there and you’re going to tackle somebody in this conference, it doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to be process-driven.”

Defensive back Ryan White noted that the Commodore offense has been doing just fine, and it’s his unit that needs to turn things around in order for Vanderbilt to get back in the win column.

“Personally, I feel like the offense has been doing their job and scoring a lot of points  this year,” White said. “The defense has flat-out not been doing their job. We need to prevent teams from putting points on the board, so I feel like it’s on us.”

Crashing the Bentley

Despite losing wide receiver Deebo Samuel to injury, this South Carolina offense is potent. Quarterback Jake Bentley has the fourth-most passing yards in the SEC, and despite not having much on the ground, the Gamecocks have powered through adversity.

“They’ve had some injuries,” Mason said. “They’ve dealt with some significant injuries on the offensive side of the ball, and just continued to find ways to make it happen. It starts with Jake Bentley. I believe he’s a talented quarterback, strong arm, reads coverage well, can extend plays. When he gets flushed out of the pocket, he doesn’t panic. He has receivers outside that can make plays.”

Running back Ty’Son Williams sits 21st in the SEC in yards with just 328, so look for Vanderbilt to have yet another opportunity to make a team beat them through the air.

Who Rides the Bus?

After the loss to Ole Miss two weeks ago, Mason said the everyone’s roster spot was up for grabs except for Kyle Shurmur and Ralph Webb.

Two weeks later, it seemed there might not be a lot of changes. The depth chart looked mostly identical to the one before the Ole Miss game. According to Mason, he’s not going to bench someone just for the sake of benching them.

“If I’m giving away seats on the bus, it’s not much of a competition,” he said. “For us, our margin for error is slim. It’s been slim since the day I got here. You know what, it’s not changing. We have to do the things that it takes to win ball games.”

Kickoff against South Carolina is scheduled for 3 PM central time Saturday on SEC Network. The Hustler will be on site in Columbia, so stay tuned for complete game coverage.

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About the Contributor
Cutler Klein
Cutler Klein, Former Sports Editor
Cutler Klein ('19) was the Sports Editor of the Vanderbilt Hustler. He previously served as Assistant Sports Editor. He majored in communication studies in the College of Arts and Science. When he's not writing stories, tweeting silly GIFs or watching any hockey game he can find, Cutler is running the sports department of VandyRadio, hosting VU Sports Wired on VTV and covering the Nashville Predators as a credentialed media member for Penalty Box Radio. Cutler has had bylines on and
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