Vanderbilt-Western Kentucky Football Preview

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

The 2014 football season was so last year.

If you ask anyone surrounding this year’s Commodores squad, that’s the answer you’ll get. After only winning a meager three games last season, Vanderbilt is looking to get back on track and win. Head coach Derek Mason said in a press conference Tuesday that his team is moving forward, and only forward.

“Let’s stop talking about last year,” he said. “Let’s get that straight. It’s in the record books. It is what it is. Right now, we’re talking about the 2015 season. Our guys need to focus on the 2015 season. That’s where we need to be. That’s what we need to be talking about.”

A number of things should look different for this team, the biggest of which are the coordinators. Mason himself will be calling the shots on the defensive side, while Andy Ludwig, former offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, will be at the helm of the offense. Center Spencer Pulley said Ludwig has been a great mentor thus far.

“He’s been around for a while, and knows what he’s doing,” Pulley said. “We learned from him, and he did his best to accommodate to what we know. It was a smooth process.”

Even in the first matchup of the season against Western Kentucky, Mason faces a challenge as defensive coordinator in stopping quarterback Brandon Doughty. The sixth-year senior led the FBS in passing yards and touchdowns last season, while earning Conference USA MVP honors. But Mason isn’t afraid of Doughty. In fact, he’s looking forward to the battle.

“[Facing Doughty] is a fun challenge,” he said. “I like the chess match. I’m not trying to be cynical, but I like the challenge. They’re a good football team offensively. That’s why we want to play games like this. The opportunity is there.”

On the other side of the ball, the team has yet to announce the starting quarterback for this season. Last year, the team bounced between multiple quarterbacks throughout the season, before finally settling on then-freshman Johnny McCrary by the end of the season. This year’s competition came down to McCrary and fellow sophomore Wade Freebeck. According to Mason, that decision for this year has been made over a week ago, but won’t announce anything until the starter jogs onto the field for the first offensive series. Mason said he did it this way to avoid throwing unnecessary pressures on the starter.

“I’ve got two QBs that are more than capable of playing, but I have to have a starter and I have a backup,” he said. “My idea is to take the pressure off these guys and let them go play the game. It’s not about what the fans want to see or what they want to know. It’s about what puts these guys in the best possible position to play well.”

Overall, Mason said he was excited to see the work ethic that his players put in during the offseason, and how his squad has embraced a mindset and culture of winning. He also stressed the importance of getting the real season started on the right foot, calling the WKU matchup a “statement game for both teams.”

The shift in thought is even evident in the players. They are ready to get the show on the road, and according to senior linebacker Darreon Herring, the Commodores are ready to make some noise.

“I’m certain this is going to be a better year for us,” he said. “Teams and analysts out there think they know what’s coming this year, but they really don’t. I have confidence in the offense and defense. People are going to be shocked this year at what we do.”