The time has come to find out how much of a difference a coaching change can make.
Vanderbilt plays its first game under Derek Mason on Thursday when it hosts Temple (8:15 p.m., SEC Network) and players have talked plenty in recent weeks about how the attitude of the staff and the schemes it has implemented differ from previous years.
The idea, though, is to maintain – if not improve upon – the successful three-year run of James Franklin and his assistants.
The only way to do that is to win. A lot.
Finally, these Commodores have their opportunity.
Three reasons to believe Vanderbilt will have success Thursday
• On the line: This is far from the most experienced team Vanderbilt ever has put on the field. However, all five starting offensive linemen and four of the front seven on defense have been starters for a respectable amount of time. Only six FBS teams have less combined starting experience on the offensive line than Temple and the Owls don’t have a senior starter on the defensive front. Control the line on both sides of the ball and you control the game.
• Under center: It was mentioned from time to time last season and it takes on more importance now that he is the starting quarterback: Patton Robinette is not a guy who loses often. In his first serious playing time as a college quarterback he rallied Vanderbilt to a victory over Georgia. Then he went 2-1 as a starter with a victory at Florida and another in the BBVA Compass Bowl. In high school he was 29-1 and won two state championships.
• Element of surprise: An SEC program, Vanderbilt has an edge in overall talent. Temple’s opportunity to negate at least some of that gap through scouting and game-planning doesn’t exist since the Commodores have not played a game with this particular set of coaches. Anything the Owls do will be based on educated guesses rather than actual film review.
Three reasons to believe Vanderbilt will struggle Thursday
• Second time around: Temple is in its second season under coach Matt Ruhle and if he is going to be successful the results should start to show now. Al Golden started his successful five-year run there with a 1-11 effort in 2006. He won four games in his second season followed by a combined 22-15 in the next three years. It should be noted that the Owls were much better during the second half of last season.
• Under center: P.J. Walker started seven games last season as a true freshman and threatened the program’s single-season records for passing yards and touchdowns. He is on the preseason watch lists for all the major quarterback awards and has all of his top targets from a year ago back this fall. He’ll know what to do. It’s up the Commodores to stop him from doing it.
• Man in the middle: Outside linebacker Tyler Matakevich led the nation in 2013 with 99 solo tackles. A junior, he has topped 100 total tackles in each of the first two years. If Vanderbilt can’t get blockers on him and keep him away from the ball, the offense will be limited to half the field, which will make things much more difficult.
The bottom line
It’s Temple, which won just two games last season – and one of them was against Memphis. There are bound to be some rough spots as Vanderbilt puts its new schemes into action for the first time. As a result, the final score might be closer than some Commodores fans would like but it is tough to imagine an upset.
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