Discovery of lost list has Mason better prepared for game situations

If it seemed there were times during games last season that Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason was not sure what to do — let’s be honest, there definitely were times it seemed that way — perhaps this is the reason.

Even though the second-year coach has added the role of defensive coordinator to his duties for 2015, Mason said Tuesday he feels better prepared for whatever happens in a game because of a recent discovery he made in his personal football library.

“I had a sheet that I had been looking for for the last 18 months,” Mason said. “Lo and behold, about two weeks ago, it popped up. I found it in my library of football books.”

What he found was a detailed list of game situations and what he should do in each of them. According to his timeline, he had it when he accepted the job at Vanderbilt last January (or shortly thereafter). He was without it, though, when the Commodores went 3-9 and failed to win an SEC game for the first time in five years.

“I had already gone through that list and really remembered a couple of items on there that needed to be checked off,” Mason said. “Now, I feel really good about what we’re doing and where we’re at.”

He noted that the ‘gameday checklist’ he has produced for this season includes 65 items “and it covers everything I need to know.”

“I’m never going to go into a game unprepared for the situation at hand,” Mason said. “Some things come up, but with that I’ve got to be charged with making good decisions and making sure our football team goes forward.”

 
(Photo: Joe Howell/Vanderbilt athletics)

Sep 1, 2015 1:50 PM

Jones calls on Volunteers fans to make Saturday's opener a sellout

Butch Jones won’t take anything for granted.

The third-year University of Tennessee coach wants to take full advantage of local interest in his program – emphasis on the word full – when the Volunteers open the 2015 season against Bowling Green on Saturday at Nissan Stadium (3 p.m., SEC Network). So he came right out and asked for it.

“We need a home field advantage, and Vol Nation has been outstanding,” Jones said Monday. “When we've asked them to respond, they've responded. When we've asked them to come and fill Neyland Stadium and have 40,000-plus for an open practice, they've responded.

“We need Vol Nation to respond to make this a home field advantage. We need to sell this football game out. Team 119 is calling on our fans to do this, because when you take a home venue, when you take a home game off your campus, one of the things, as your football team, that's critical in college football is the home field advantage.”

Roughly 10,000 seats – all in the upper deck – remain available for Tennessee’s fifth appearance at the home of the Tennessee Titans.

The Volunteers lost the 2010 Music City Bowl to North Carolina, 30-27 in double overtime. They played their twice in 2002 – a 47-7 victory over Wyoming in the opener and a 24-0 victory over Vanderbilt in the final game of the regular season (it was a Vanderbilt home game). Vanderbilt also moved the 2000 matchup there and Tennessee win 28-26.

“When (we) get on the bus to go over to Nashville, everyone has a concrete job description, and being able to execute their assignment [is critical],” Jones said. “I know our players are looking forward to playing in Nissan Stadium and playing in Nashville.”

Now he’s put the responsibility on UT fans to make sure that all seats are sold.

(Photo: UTSports.com)

Aug 31, 2015 1:01 PM

Mason keeps quiet on quarterbacks except to say choice is made

It’s anything but a case of don’t ask, don’t tell.

The question of who will be Vanderbilt’s starting quarterback in 2015 has been asked repeatedly since Patton Robinette announced in March that he decided to give up the game to focus on academics.

Derek Mason said Thursday he has made his choice – and he has told.

During his first radio show of the season the second-year coach said his team knows who will be under center next Thursday when the Commodores open the season at home against Western Kentucky (7 p.m., SEC Network). Everyone else will find out when the game is played.

“The team knows who the starter is and … we’re not splitting reps or sharing reps,” Mason said during Commodore Call-In on WLAC-AM 1510. “There’s a starter and there’s a backup. We’re actually preparing that way. We’ve got seven days until game time and right now the reps are efficient. Guys are playing well. Everybody understands their role.”

It was a choice between sophomores Wade Freebeck and Johnny McCrary, who combined to start nine of Vanderbilt’s final 10 games last season. Neither had much success.

Freebeck started in victories over Massachusetts and Charleston Southern but did not finish either contest. Robinette replaced him against UMass and played most of the game.

Likewise, McCrary did most of the work against Charleston Southern. After that he started the final five games, including a victory over Old Dominion.

Freebeck completed 47.2 percent of his passes with one touchdown and five interceptions. McCrary completed 51.3 percent of his throws with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions.

“The quarterback position is probably the most improved – as it should be,” Mason said. “We needed that position to be better.

“… We have a starter and we do have a backup. And I feel good about both of those guys and what they’re going to do for us.”

He’s just not going to say which is which.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Aug 27, 2015 9:37 PM

Jones suspends last season's leading receiver for UT's opener

Pig Howard, the University of Tennessee’s leading receiver in 2014, has been suspended for the 2015 opener.

Coach Butch Jones announced the punishment Thursday, nine days before the Volunteers face Bowling Green at Nissan Stadium, and indicated that it could have been worse.

“This isn't something that just occurred, this is something that dates back many months,” Jones said. “However, to Alton's credit, I like the way he's approached training camp. He's had the best training camp he's had since we've been here. I'm appreciative of his efforts, but he will miss the Bowling Green game.”

Howard, a 5-foot-8, 180-pound senior out of Orlando, Fla., has played 34 games in his college career (19 starts) and has caught at least one pass in each of the last 33. He finished last season with 54 receptions for 618 yards and a touchdown. He also ran the ball 15 times for 96 yards and two touchdowns.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Aug 27, 2015 1:51 PM

MTSU schedules three-game football series with Missouri

It’s not likely that Middle Tennessee State ever will be a member of the Southeastern Conference.

That does not mean the school can’t give its football program and its fans a taste of what it’s like to play in the country’s preeminent conference.

Wednesday, the school announced a three-game series, one of which will be in Murfreesboro, with one of the SEC’s newest members, Missouri.

The Blue Raiders will play in Columbia, Mo. in 2016 and 2023. They will host Missouri in 2022.

Counting this season’s four, more than half of the 15 non-conference games MTSU currently has scheduled are against SEC opponents. In addition to the three with Missouri there are four with Vanderbilt (2015-18) and one with Alabama (2015).

"We are excited about this series because it gives our fans a chance to see Middle Tennessee compete against a quality non-league opponent from a Power 5 conference," athletics director Chris Massaro said in an athletics department release. "We have been fortunate to attract several quality teams to our campus, and Missouri is certainly another one of those."

MTSU also has road games scheduled with a pair of Big Ten opponents, Illinois (2015) and Minnesota (2017), and a home-and-home with an ACC opponent, Duke (2019, 2020).

Aug 26, 2015 9:39 PM

Coaches put two Vanderbilt players on preseason All-SEC teams

Vanderbilt had a hard time last season figuring out how best to use Caleb Azubike and Darrius Sims.

Each played multiple positions throughout the course of the 2014 season, one in which the Commmodores went 3-9 overall and failed to win a conference game.

Tuesday, the rest of the SEC coaches made it clear where they think those two players do well. Both were named to the preseason coaches All-SEC third team.

Azubike (pictured), who switched between defensive end and linebacker last year, was chosen as a defensive end, which is where second-year coach Derek Mason has said he will remain this fall. The senior out of McGavock had a career-high with 39 tackles and tied his personal best with four sacks.

Sims, who played offense, defense and special teams, was selected as a return specialist. He tied an NCAA record when he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in a single game last fall. He averaged 24.5 yards per return for the season. Coaches have said he will be a running back/wide receiver this season who will continue to have a big role on special teams.

This is the 13th year SEC coaches have voted on preseason all-conference teams. They were not allowed to vote for players from their own programs.

PRESEASON COACHES ALL-SEC TEAMS

OFFENSE

    First Team
    QB: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
    RB: Nick Chubb, Georgia
    RB: Leonard Fournette, LSU
    WR: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
    WR: Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
    TE: Evan Engram, Ole Miss
    OL: Cam Robinson, Alabama
    OL: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
    OL: Vadal Alexander, LSU
    OL: John Theus, Georgia
    C: Mike Matthews, Texas A&M
    AP: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
    Second Team
    QB: Maty Mauk, Missouri
    RB: Derrick Henry, Alabama
    RB: Alex Collins, Arkansas
    WR: D'haquille Williams, Auburn
    WR: Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia
    TE: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
    OL: Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M
    OL: Dan Skipper, Arkansas
    OL: Denver Kirkland, Arkansas
    OL: Greg Pyke, Georgia
    C: Ryan Kelly, Alabama
    AP: Leonard Fournette, LSU
    Third Team
    QB: Jeremy Johnson, Auburn *
    QB: Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee *
    RB: Jonathan Williams, Arkansas
    RB: Russell Hansbrough, Missouri
    RB: Kelvin Taylor, Florida
    WR: Demarcus Robinson, Florida *
    WR: Travin Dural, LSU *
    WR: Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M *
    TE: O.J. Howard, Alabama
    OL: Sebastian Tretola, Arkansas
    OL: Alex Kozan, Auburn
    OL: Devonte Dazney, Auburn
    OL: Brandon Shell, South Carolina *
    OL: Jordan Swindle, Kentucky *
    C: Evan Boehm, Missouri
    AP: Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

    First Team
    DL: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
    DL: A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
    DL: Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
    DL: Chris Jones, Mississippi State
    LB: Reggie Ragland, Alabama
    LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
    LB: Curt Maggitt, Tennessee
    DB: Vernon Hargreaves, Florida
    DB: Cyrus Jones, Alabama
    DB: Jonathan Jones, Auburn
    DB: Jalen Mills, LSU
    Second Team
    DL: Jonathan Bullard, Florida
    DL: Derek Barnett, Tennessee
    DL: Jonathan Allen, Alabama
    DL: Montravius Adams, Auburn
    LB: Kendell Beckwith, LSU
    LB: Antonio Morrison, Florida
    LB: Kentrell Brothers, Missouri
    DB: Tony Conner, Ole Miss (117)
    DB: Cameron Sutton, Tennessee
    DB: Will Redmond, Mississippi State
    DB: Tre'Davious White, LSU
    DB: Tony Conner, Ole Miss
    Third Team
    DL: Carl Lawson, Auburn
    DL: Davon Godchaux, LSU
    DL: Caleb Azubike, Vanderbilt
    DL: Ryan Brown, Mississippi State
    LB: Leonard Floyd, Georgia
    LB: Cassanova McKinzy, Auburn
    LB: Lorenzo Carter, Georgia
    DB: A.J. Stamps, Kentucky
    DB: Eddie Jackson, Alabama
    DB: Rohan Gaines, Arkansas
    DB: Johnathan Ford, Auburn
    DB: Trae Elston, Ole Miss

SPECIALISTS

    First Team
    P: JK Scott, Alabama
    PK: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
    RS: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
    Second Team
    P: Jamie Keehn, LSU
    PK: Austin MacGinnis, Kentucky
    RS: Leonard Fournette, LSU *
    RS: Isaiah McKenzie, Georgia *
    Third Team
    P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
    PK: Elliott Fry, South Carolina
    RS: Darrius Sims, Vanderbilt
    RS: Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

(Photo: Getty Images)

Aug 25, 2015 4:36 PM

Barnett one of four Volunteers on coaches' preseason All-SEC teams

Southeastern Conference coaches expect Derek Barnett to pick up this season right where he left off the last one.

The defensive end out of Brentwood Academy was one of four University of Tennessee players named to the coaches’ preseason All-SEC team, released by the conference office Tuesday.

Barnett was a 2014 All-SEC second-team selection as a true freshman (he also was second-team All-SEC by the Associated Press) when he played all 13 games (10 starts) and set program records for sacks (10) and tackles for loss (20.5) by a freshman. His 72 tackles were the most in the conference by a freshman.

Linebacker Curt Maggitt was named to the first team, defensive back Cameron Sutton joined Barnett on the second team and quarterback Joshua Dobbs made the third team.

This is the 13th year SEC coaches have voted on preseason all-conference teams. They were not allowed to vote for players from their own programs.

PRESEASON COACHES ALL-SEC TEAMS

OFFENSE

    First Team
    QB: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
    RB: Nick Chubb, Georgia
    RB: Leonard Fournette, LSU
    WR: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
    WR: Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
    TE: Evan Engram, Ole Miss
    OL: Cam Robinson, Alabama
    OL: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
    OL: Vadal Alexander, LSU
    OL: John Theus, Georgia
    C: Mike Matthews, Texas A&M
    AP: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
    Second Team
    QB: Maty Mauk, Missouri
    RB: Derrick Henry, Alabama
    RB: Alex Collins, Arkansas
    WR: D'haquille Williams, Auburn
    WR: Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia
    TE: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
    OL: Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M
    OL: Dan Skipper, Arkansas
    OL: Denver Kirkland, Arkansas
    OL: Greg Pyke, Georgia
    C: Ryan Kelly, Alabama
    AP: Leonard Fournette, LSU
    Third Team
    QB: Jeremy Johnson, Auburn *
    QB: Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee *
    RB: Jonathan Williams, Arkansas
    RB: Russell Hansbrough, Missouri
    RB: Kelvin Taylor, Florida
    WR: Demarcus Robinson, Florida *
    WR: Travin Dural, LSU *
    WR: Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M *
    TE: O.J. Howard, Alabama
    OL: Sebastian Tretola, Arkansas
    OL: Alex Kozan, Auburn
    OL: Devonte Dazney, Auburn
    OL: Brandon Shell, South Carolina *
    OL: Jordan Swindle, Kentucky *
    C: Evan Boehm, Missouri
    AP: Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

    First Team
    DL: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
    DL: A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
    DL: Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
    DL: Chris Jones, Mississippi State
    LB: Reggie Ragland, Alabama
    LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
    LB: Curt Maggitt, Tennessee
    DB: Vernon Hargreaves, Florida
    DB: Cyrus Jones, Alabama
    DB: Jonathan Jones, Auburn
    DB: Jalen Mills, LSU
    Second Team
    DL: Jonathan Bullard, Florida
    DL: Derek Barnett, Tennessee
    DL: Jonathan Allen, Alabama
    DL: Montravius Adams, Auburn
    LB: Kendell Beckwith, LSU
    LB: Antonio Morrison, Florida
    LB: Kentrell Brothers, Missouri
    DB: Tony Conner, Ole Miss (117)
    DB: Cameron Sutton, Tennessee
    DB: Will Redmond, Mississippi State
    DB: Tre'Davious White, LSU
    DB: Tony Conner, Ole Miss
    Third Team
    DL: Carl Lawson, Auburn
    DL: Davon Godchaux, LSU
    DL: Caleb Azubike, Vanderbilt
    DL: Ryan Brown, Mississippi State
    LB: Leonard Floyd, Georgia
    LB: Cassanova McKinzy, Auburn
    LB: Lorenzo Carter, Georgia
    DB: A.J. Stamps, Kentucky
    DB: Eddie Jackson, Alabama
    DB: Rohan Gaines, Arkansas
    DB: Johnathan Ford, Auburn
    DB: Trae Elston, Ole Miss

SPECIALISTS

    First Team
    P: JK Scott, Alabama
    PK: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
    RS: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
    Second Team
    P: Jamie Keehn, LSU
    PK: Austin MacGinnis, Kentucky
    RS: Leonard Fournette, LSU *
    RS: Isaiah McKenzie, Georgia *
    Third Team
    P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
    PK: Elliott Fry, South Carolina
    RS: Darrius Sims, Vanderbilt
    RS: Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Aug 25, 2015 4:18 PM

UT makes it two for two in preseason top 25 rankings

The University of Tennessee has nowhere to go but up.

Unless it drops out of college football’s two primary rankings, that is.

The Associated Press preseason top 25, released Sunday, has the Volunteers to No. 25. That’s the same spot they occupied in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll, which was released late last month.

So UT will open the season as the top 25’s version of Miss Congeniality. Even that, though, is noteworthy given the difficulty the program has had in recent years turning the heads of voters.

From the UT athletics department:

The Volunteers last appeared in the AP Poll on Sept. 12, 2012 when it was listed at No. 23. Sunday's announcement marks UT's first appearance in the preseason edition of the AP poll since the 2008 season and its 39th appearance in the poll all-time. That year, Tennessee began the year in the No. 18 spot.

The season-opener against Bowling Green on Sept. 5 now stands as the first time since 2008 that the Volunteers will take the field while ranked simultaneously in both major college football polls.

Tennessee is the last of eight SEC programs among the AP’s preseason top 25, led by No. 3 Alabama. Mississippi State and Texas A&M are the first two among ‘others receiving votes.’
 

Aug 24, 2015 5:05 AM

Vanderbilt plans to make good, varied use of Sims this season

Don’t look for Darius Sims at one position this fall.

Expect the ball to go wherever he is, though. At least that’s the plan for first-year Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and his staff.

“There’s a guy that’s real dynamic with the ball in his hands,” Ludwig said. “So whether he’s playing wide receiver or tailback for us, we have to be real creative in the way he gets touches.”

The junior from Memphis has spurred the imagination coaches from the moment he arrived on campus in 2013.

James Franklin and his staff saw him as a cornerback and return specialist. He was one of three true freshmen who played for the Commodores that season, when he made 10 tackles and averaged 23.1 yards on 22 kickoff returns.

Derek Mason took over last year and he envisioned something different. He played nickel cornerback on defense and continued as a kick returner but also saw limited action on offense. He made his biggest splash against South Carolina, when he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns (91 and 100 yards) and was named SEC Specialist of the Week.

Since the end of last season he has been considered a member of the offense. He is listed as a wide receiver/return specialist, but that is only part of the story.

“During the spring I started off at running back, just basically learning the blocking schemes and the running and everything like that,” he said. “The second half of the spring I played wide receiver, where I could get both of the experiences. It’s been a smooth transition.”

The idea is that it will be difficult for defenses to keep track of him but for Vanderbilt’s quarterbacks to look for him as often as possible.

“I’m ready to take whatever package they give me,” he said. “If it’s as an every-down (player) I’m more than ready to handle that. My main goal is to help this team win and be better than last year. My role has become bigger, as far as special teams and offense, but I’m ready to take on anything.

“… Just trying to get the ball in my hands, just trying to get out in open space we’re just trying to do everything this year.”

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Aug 21, 2015 12:43 PM

Vanderbilt loses another starter on offense to season-ending injury

For the second time in a little more than a week, one of Vanderbilt’s best players on offense sustained a season-ending injury.

Starting left tackle Andrew Jelks hurt a knee during Wednesday night’s workout on the team’s indoor practice facility. Thursday morning coach Derek Mason announced the Jelks would miss the entire season, which kicks off in two weeks.

“I’m really disappointed for Andrew because he’s such a fine young man,” Mason said in a release from the athletics department. “Andrew was having an excellent camp and was looking forward to having a big year. He’s a tremendous talent who commands respect throughout the locker room. Andrew’s a dedicated, hard worker and I know he will come back even stronger.”

Jelks (6-foot-6, 307 pounds), out of Henry County High School, redshirted in 2012, which means 2016 will be his final season of eligibility unless he petitions the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility. He started 22 games the last two years, including all 12 at left tackle last fall. He was an SEC All-Freshman selection in 2013.

According to the preseason depth chart, the top four backup tackles include redshirt-freshman Bailey Granier, junior college sophomore Egidio DellaRippa and true freshmen Justin Skule and Jared Southers – none of them have any game experience with the Commodores.

“It’s time for others to step up and claim a more substantial role in the success of our offense,” Mason said. “We definitely have players on our roster that can fill the void left by Andrew’s departure.”

Early last week, wide receiver C.J. Duncan, the Commodores’ second leading receiver in 2014, was the first to sustain a season-ending injury.

(Photo: Vanderbilt athletics)
 

Aug 20, 2015 1:14 PM