It was always going to be difficult for Derek Mason to follow James Franklin at Vanderbilt. Franklin did things at Vandy that many though impossible: going to three straight bowl games, winning 24 games in three seasons and posting back to back nine win seasons. Mason arrived in Nashville from Stanford, where he ran one of the best defenses in the country. In his two years at the helm of the Commodores, he’s gone 7-17. At SEC media days this year Mason was very upbeat about the prospects for his team this year. The defense was very good last year and if Mason can figure out how to get the offense to any level above anemic, the Commodores could go bowling again.
As mentioned above the Vanderbilt offense has been absolutely atrocious since Mason took over. In 2014 they averaged a mere 17 points per game and last year it bottomed out at an astonishingly low 15 points per game. There hasn’t been any consistency at quarterback with five different QB’s getting game time over the last two seasons. The guy with the most reps each of the last two season, Johnny McCrary, transferred to Mercer, leaving the QB race wide open. They do get last year’s leading rusher, Ralph Webb, back. Webb had a 1,000 yard season last year to go with five TD’s. There is hope that with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig now in his second season at Vandy the Commodores offense will be more familiar with his system and therefore be able to produce more on offense.
Defense is Vanderbilt’s strong suit. Mason took over defensive play calling last year and they were a very good unit. They gave up fewer than 20 points a game and held three opponents to under 10 points. The defense also kept the Commodores in several games when the offense could not move the ball, most notably the season opener against Western Kentucky where they held the normally potent Hilltoppers offense to 14 points, but still lost the game 14-12. There were really only two games last year where the Vandy defense was a disappointment. They gave up 34 points to Houston and got smoked by Tennessee in the season finale, giving up 53 points.
This season is the first year where Mason has had a good chance to take the Commodores to a bowl game. The SEC East is a far weaker division than the SEC West. Out of conference Vandy only plays one Power Five team (which didn’t make a bowl game last year) and an FCS team. It is possible that Vandy could start 4-0 before getting into the meat of their SEC schedule. Conference play has been a struggle for Vanderbilt, going 2-14 against SEC teams over the last two years. But if they can take care of their non-conference schedule and steal a win or two in conference play, the Commodores could go bowling again.
2016 Vanderbilt Commodores Schedule
9/1 – Vanderbilt vs. South Carolina – Vanderbilt Stadium
9/10 – Vanderbilt vs. Middle Tennessee – Vanderbilt Stadium
9/17 – Vanderbilt @ Georgia Tech – Bobby Dodd Stadium
9/24 – Vanderbilt @ Western Kentucky – Houchens Industries-LT Smith Stadium
10/1 – Vanderbilt vs. Florida – Vanderbilt Stadium
10/8 – Vanderbilt @ Kentucky – Commonwealth Stadium
10/15 – Vanderbilt @ Georgia – Sanford Stadium
10/22 – Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee State – Vanderbilt Stadium
11/5 – Vanderbilt @ Auburn – Jordan-Hare Stadium
11/12 – Vanderbilt @ Missouri – Faurot Field
11/19 – Vanderbilt vs. Ole Miss – Vanderbilt Stadium
11/26 – Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee – Vanderbilt Stadium