For Vanderbilt, game-planning for first game can wait a few weeks

It’s first things first for Vanderbilt football in its first camp under coach Derek Mason.

The first game, Aug. 28 against Temple, is not one of the first things.

“We’ll get to Temple the week before Temple,” Mason said Wednesday. “Here’s what happens: When you’re laying a foundation — I’m talking about how we tackle, how we move guys off the ball — camp isn’t what it used to be. Camp used to be what seemed like two months. Now camp has been condensed into a small window.

“So what you do with your camp period has to last you through the season in terms of what your fundamentals look like.”

The Commodores begin their fall camp Thursday, exactly four weeks before the opener. Rather than use any of that extra time to familiarize themselves with Temple’s schemes and personnel, they plan to focus strictly on their own schemes and playing style for the first three weeks.

It will be interesting to see how it pays off. Even with its success in recent seasons, Vanderbilt has lost its last three season-openers against Division I opponents. Those three defeats were by a total of merely 10 points and all were at home.

A look at Vanderbilt’s last three season-openers against FBS opponents:

2010: lost 23-21 vs. Northwestern
2012: lost 17-13 vs. South Carolina
2013: lost 39-35 vs. Ole Miss

The Commodores did open with victories in 2009 and 2011. In those years, however, they played FCS opponents Western Carolina and Elon, respectively.

The last season-opening triumph over an FBS opponent was against Miami (Ohio), 34-13 in 2008. That year the program made its first of four bowl appearances in a six-year span.

“You have to settle into the schedule of only having a week to prepare for your opponent anyway,” Mason said. “So let’s not deviate from what the schedule is going to look like for us.

“Let’s work on the fundamentals. Let’s make sure that these guys understand how we want to play and what it looks like. Then we’ll get to game-planning when the time comes because everybody’s first game is going to be about the same — how you execute fundamentally.”

So in that regard, they actually will be preparing for Temple each and every day.