NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason finally has the first season-opening win of his head coaching career, and he’s eager to add many more this season.
His voice is hoarse from yelling at his Commodores at practice to ensure they want it as badly as he does.
“It’s more about me just not being satisfied,” Mason said of a 28-6 victory over Middle Tennessee to open the season. “I’m not going to manufacture getting after these guys. I mean, we’ve got to be about the work, so the false stuff really doesn’t make our stuff go.
“They understand that we’re going to be challenged every day. The work’s got to be done, and so we have to improve. We left some meat on the bone (against MTSU), and we need to improve those areas if we want to be a football team that can do the things that I believe, and that this team believes, they’re capable of.”
Mason could be forgiven for easing up a bit on the Commodores considering they host a Football Championship Series team Saturday in Alabama A&M (0-1) coming off a 38-7 loss to Alabama-Birmingham. This will be the first game between these programs.
But the Commodores have not won the first two games to open a season since 2011. That was the first season under coach James Franklin when Vanderbilt started by winning its first three games. After hosting Alabama A&M, the schedule stiffens considerably for Vanderbilt with No. 19 Kansas State visiting Sept. 16 followed by top-ranked Alabama.
The upcoming schedule is part of why Mason is driving his Commodores so hard to improve even though his defense had five sacks in a performance tying them for eighth nationally after the opening week. It was the most by a Vanderbilt defense since upsetting Florida in the Swamp in 2013. Charles Wright had three by himself, the most by a Commodore since 2012.
Mason wasn’t happy that Vanderbilt didn’t finish better after leading 21-0 at halftime. The Commodores only ran for 71 yards despite having Ralph Webb, the school’s all-time leading rusher. And the defense missed a chance at a shutout giving up a fourth-quarter touchdown.
Kicker Tommy Openshaw missed a 31-yard field goal wide right when he usually has missed to the left — when he misses.
“For us, we just have to continue to make sure we grab everything there is to grab,” Mason said.
Being yelled at by Mason is not a problem for the Commodores. Safety Ryan White says that’s just Mason holding them to the standard the coach knows they are capable of playing.
That also means there’s little chance the Commodores will overlook Alabama A&M.
“Everybody knows that we need to focus down, we need to bow down because we’re playing a good team that’s capable of beating us if we come in slacking,” White said. “So we got to make sure everybody’s focused and doing their job.”
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