“Here’s the thing: I want to win. This group wants to win.”
The Vanderbilt Commodores may be on a two-game skid, but that is certainly not indicative of what this team has achieved so far or what they have in store for the rest of the season. Head coach Derek Mason said it himself.
“I’m fortunate, I feel blessed with this football team, I still think it’s a special team,” he said at Tuesday’s press conference. “It’s just a team right now that’s still trying to find its way through a tough stretch of games.”
Mason is right. If the team’s early success tells us anything, it’s that this is a good football team—they’re just going through a very tough part of their schedule. Clearly, playing four ranked opponents in four straight weeks is no crystal stair. They snuck away with an upset win against Kansas State, but since then, they lost decisively to Alabama and lost a close game to Florida. Should Georgia prove to be anything like Kansas State, Vanderbilt could shake things up and leave many wondering who the best team in the SEC East really is.
So, if this is as good of a team as it seems, what is it that separates their first three weeks from their last two? Sure, they played great teams, but Kansas State and Middle Tennessee shouldn’t be taken lightly. According to Coach Mason, this team is simply lacking the strain to finish, the mental wherewithal they had in the first few weeks to power through adversity and come out victorious.
“Here’s what strain to finish is: when there’s the possibility or opportunity to get to the other side, you do whatever it takes,” he said. “That’s that gumption, that’s that dig from the bottom, that’s that from the mud mentality that you’ve got to get down to, and that lies within your inner core.”
The Commodores have shown us that they have the strain to finish—those first three games, most notably, the Kansas State game, were truly a grind. The players gave it their all. They displayed what Mason refers to as “that gumption”, “that from the mud mentality” that contributes to finishing strong, it’s just a matter of whether or not they can bounce back from tough losses. Strain to finish is not defined solely by the team’s resilience to finish a game on a high note. Rather, they must also finish the season strong, and this week against Georgia could be a heck of a start towards finishing strong.
At this point last season, the Commodores were 2-3. They ended the season with a solid 6-6 record, punching them a ticket to a bowl game. Compare that to this season’s 3-2 record, including a big win over a ranked opponent. Vanderbilt fans, don’t fret: this season is far from over.
Here are some other notes from Mason’s press conference this week.
Coach Mason on Kirby Smart’s game plan:
Georgia’s head coach Kirby Smart has a bit of a quarterback competition on his hands.
Starting quarterback Jacob Eason went down with a knee injury in week one, and since then, freshman Jake Fromm has done an excellent job filling his shoes. He’s led the team to a perfect 5-0 start, and he ranks third in the SEC in QBR. With Eason set to return from his injury this week, Smart has to decide whether he sticks with Fromm or brings Eason back into the mix.
Coach Smart claims he has yet to make any decision on who will start this week, but Coach Mason didn’t buy into it:
“Right now, I believe Fromm is the guy,” he said. “But that’s up to Kirby. I mean, he’s not fooling me–Fromm has won ballgames. We can quit with the coaching dramatics.”
Coach Mason on his own game plan:
Mason was asked on Tuesday if Tre Herndon or Bryce Lewis would return to action for Saturday’s game, and if they did, whether or not his defensive scheme would change.
By now, we know that Coach Mason is a smart man. Not even Kirby Smart could fool him. Of course, Mason didn’t let anyone down with his witty, well thought out response. He said:
“I’ll figure that out on Saturday,” he said. “I know those guys are practicing, so you know I wasn’t going to tell you even if you really wanted to know. But what I will say is that those guys are practicing and I like the rotation right now.”
Secrecy, folks. Never give your opponent the edge, especially if Kirby Smart is doing the exact same with his quarterback situation.