Reasons to believe: Vanderbilt at Tennessee

Derek Mason certainly embraces the rivalry.

Throughout history, Vanderbilt football coaches have adopted a wide range of attitudes toward the annual matchup with Tennessee. Mason, in his second season, does not run from it. He does not try to downplay the importance of it to his program or the fan base.

If nothing else, that should add some energy to things when the Commodores (4-7, 2-5 in the SEC) and the Volunteers (7-4, 4-3) meet once again Saturday at Neyland Stadium (3 p.m., SEC Network).

“It’s going to be a game between two teams that have a lot to play for,” Mason said. “We only have one guaranteed game left, but it’s not about just that. It’s about what this game means. It means a lot to the people in this state. And to the people here at Vanderbilt. Just know that I know how much it means.”

Three reasons to believe Vanderbilt will win Saturday

Pushing the limits: Tennessee has not won five straight games since 2007, but that is exactly what it will attempt to do in this one. It’s one thing to learn to win. It’s something different to learn to deal with success and this group of Volunteers is now at a level it has not experienced. Just ask Florida how difficult Vanderbilt can make things on a team (even a good one) awash in prosperity.

Kicking it: Kicker Tommy Openshaw has missed nine field goal attempts this season. Some of them (see: Western Kentucky and South Carolina) have been particularly costly. Tennessee has had a similar experience. Aaron Medley has missed nine field goals of his own. If it comes down to a kicking contest, the Commodores might not have an advantage but they’re not at an obvious disadvantage, either.

Time to punt: One of the strengths of Tennessee’s defense is its ability to prevent third-down conversions. Vanderbilt is better in that regard. The Commodores have allowed opponents to convert just 26.1 percent of their third-down opportunities, which is best in the SEC. Tennessee is next with a 27.6 percent conversion rate. The UT offense has been good at converting on third down but has not faced this defense.

Three reasons to believe Vanderbilt won’t win Saturday

Many happy returns: Vanderbilt will need a decisive and consistent edge in field position in this game. It’s not likely to get it given that Tennessee has the country’s leader in kickoff returns (Evan Berry, pictured) a top 10 punt returner (Cameron Sutton) and a punter who ranks sixth in the country with an average of 45.6 yards per pick. The Volunteers have a lot of ways to gain so called hidden yards.

Get to the point: Tennessee has played 271 games since the last time it was shut out. That is the fourth-longest active streak among FBS programs and ninth all-time. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, was shut out last week, the second time in four games and third in the last 13 it failed to register a point. Unless both sides decide not to keep score, these are not good indicators for the Commodores.

On the run: The strength of Vanderbilt’s offense is its run game. Tennessee’s is better. UT is second in the SEC in rushing offense with an average of 213.7 yards per game. Its 24 rushing touchdowns are three times the number the Commodores have mustered. Both teams have a 1,000-yard rusher but Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd averages 4.4 yards per carry while Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb averages 3.9, tied for worst among the SEC’s top 10 rushers.

The bottom line

The Volunteers come into the contest with all kinds of positive momentum. They have won four in a row for the first time since 2010 and they have a chance to get to eight wins for the first time since 2007.

Vanderbilt staggers in having lost three of its last four and ensured of a losing record for the second straight season.

The fact that the game is in Knoxville does not help the Commodores’ cause any. They have to do a whole bunch of things right in order to win this game, and the combination of the Volunteers and their crowd makes it highly unlikely Vanderbilt can do enough of those necessary things.

(Photo: Matthew DeMaria/Tennessee Athletics)

Nov 25, 2015 12:25 PM

Commodores have shown pass rush can come from anywhere

Even the players on Vanderbilt’s defense are not sure who gets to rush the quarterback from one play to the next.

Imagine how difficult it must be for those opposing quarterbacks and offensive linemen to figure it out.

Among the many positive signs in the performance of Derek Mason’s unit this season is the fact that 14 different players have registered at least half a sack through the first 11 games. They have come from every area of the defense – six linebackers, five defensive linemen and three defensive backs – and have put themselves in some noteworthy company.

The only SEC schools that have gotten sacks from more players are Alabama and Florida, the two conference teams that average more than three sacks per game and (probably not coincidentally) the two that will meet a little more than a week from now for the SEC championship.

“That’s what the defense is built on,” Mason, the head coach/defensive coordinator, said. “It’s built on everybody having a chance to rush, everybody getting an opportunity to drop in coverage.

“You’ve seen linemen drop. You’ve seen (linebackers) drop and – obviously – secondary plays back there. But you’ve also seen everybody have a chance to blitz and that’s why it’s all over the place in terms of numbers.”

A look at the SEC schools that have gotten the sacks from the largest number of players (with record in parentheses):

15 – Alabama (10-1)
15 – Florida (10-1)

14 – Vanderbilt (4-7)

13 – Mississippi State (8-3)
13 – Georgia (8-3)

No one on the Vanderbilt defense ranks among the SEC’s top 15 in sacks. Linebacker Zach Cunningham has a team-high 4.5, which ties him for 16th. Linebacker Stephen Weatherly led the team last year with that exact number. As recently as 2011, though, a Vanderbilt player (Tim Fugger) had eight sacks.

Nearly half of the 14 that have gotten to the quarterback this fall (six) have exactly one sack.

“I think any defensive player, when your name is called on the blitz or the play is going for you that you kind of get excited that you get to run downhill,” linebacker Darreon Herring, who has one and a half, said. “Especially as a linebacker, you don’t get that many opportunities to blitz.

“If they call a blitz for you, you have to go out there and get it.”

Vanderbilt’s 26 sacks are fifth in the conference, already more than in 2014 and within reach of 30, a number it has reached only twice in the last decade.

It’s not as if that number has been inflated by one particular opponent either. The Commodores got to the quarterback multiple times in nine of their 11 contests and never more than four in a single game.

No one player has registered a sack in more than two straight contests.

“Right now I’m not worried about the individuals,” Mason said. “I’m more worried about the team concept, unit concept, what we do and how we play. So if the production comes from a no-name guy so be it. It’s just his turn. And everybody has to be willing to take their turn.

“… When you do that you push yourself toward a mentality that can put you in a place where winning is possible.”

If Alabama and Florida are any indication, he’s right.

(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)

Nov 24, 2015 1:51 PM

Highlight reel: Texas A&M 25, Vanderbilt 0

One bad play did not define the effort of Vanderbilt’s defense but it did undermine any chance the Commodores had to upset Texas A&M on Saturday.

The Aggies spent most of the night kicking field goals. In fact, Taylor Bertolet’s six tied school and conference records for the most in a game. And he missed one.

Vanderbilt also blew one coverage, though, which led to the game’s only touchdown. In a contest in which the Commodores’ two quarterbacks combined for five completions and 23 passing yards, that was way too much to overcome.

A closer look at some of the noteworthy performers and moments from the contest:

Zach Cunningham, sophomore, linebacker

If the defense played well, which it did, chances are Cunningham had a big night, which he did.

He had 14 tackles (10 solo stops), which was one short of his career-high. He also had three tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble. Ten of the tackles came on run plays, and half of those were for a two-yard gain or less, which had a lot to do with why Texas A&M averaged just 3.8 yards on 38 rushing attempts.

Honorable mention
• Dallas Rivers, RB: The sophomore carried just three times but gained 30 yards. He looked fast and explosive on back-to-back second quarter carries of 16 and 14 yards. He also returned five kickoffs for 107 yards.

• Tre Bell, CB: He set career-highs with eight tackles and two passes defended. He had 13 and 0, respectively, for the season coming into the game but was reliable in one-on-one situations as A&M spread the field.

• Ralph Webb, RB: He got the offense moving with 51 yards in the first quarter but finished with 79, which was still enough to make him the fifth Vanderbilt player ever to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

Texas A&M’s 95-yard touchdown pass with 2:11 to play in the second quarter

Vanderbilt’s defense was doing its thing. It allowed one field goal on the previous three A&M possessions – and that was only after the Aggies blocked a punt and got the ball at the Commodores’ 13.

So with the score 6-0, it seemed an opportunity was at hand when Vanderbilt downed a punt at the A&M 4 yard line.

Then it happened. On third-and-9 quarterback Kyle Allen delivered a perfect pass to Josh Reynolds, who got behind cornerback Toren McGaster and outran safety Oren Burks for the longest play allowed by the defense all season.

The defense did not allow another touchdown the rest of the night but the damage was done – on the scoreboard and to the Commodores’ collective psyche.

Honorable mention

• McGaster broke up a pass in the end zone on third-and-7 from the Vanderbilt 13 on Texas A&M’s first possession: It forced the Aggies’ first field goal attempt, which became a theme throughout the contest.

• Steven Scheu’s four-yard reception on third-and-5 early in the third quarter: Vanderbilt got the ball to start the second half and had a chance to get back in the game. Scheu caught a pass, however, and went to the ground a yard short of a first down. It was three drives later that the Commodores finally moved the chains for the first time in the second half.


• "We were able to run the ball well, but we have to have a balanced run-pass. You have to make plays. You have to make sure all the pressure isn't on [Webb] and the run game.” – Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason, on the offense’s struggles.

• “I'm very appreciate and thankful for the offensive line doing a great job all year, allowing me to get the runs that I got, but at the end of the day, I just want to get the win with my team.” – Webb, on rushing for 1,000 yards.

• "That play really didn't deter us at all. We just had to come out there with a mindset for the next couple of series. We were going to fix it and move on." – linebacker Darreon Herring, on the 95-yard touchdown pass.


Vanderbilt was shut out for the second time in four weeks and looked for much of the night as if it had no chance to move the ball. Once the A&M defense decided to focus its attention on Webb that was pretty much the case.

There is one week remaining in the season, which is not enough time to revamp the entire scheme, but coaches need to come up with something to allow the offense to contribute more than it has for much of this season, even some of the victories.

(Photo: Joe Howell/Vanderbilt Athletics)

Nov 23, 2015 6:26 AM

Reasons to believe: Vanderbilt vs. Texas A&M

Vanderbilt has played its best football of the season of late. Texas A&M has played some of its worst.

What that means when they meet Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium (6:30 p.m., SEC Network) is anybody’s guess.

What seems certain is that Derek Mason’s as Vanderbilt coach is more secure than its been while Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin faces serious doubts for the first time. Still, both could use a win.

Three reasons to believe Vanderbilt will win Saturday

Kid quarterback: Kyler Murray went from highly touted recruit to Texas A&M’s starting quarterback in a little less than two months. He is still very much a potential star, but he has started just three games (wins over South Carolina and Western Carolina, a loss to Auburn) so it seems safe to assume he has not seen all the things Mason will throw at him. Many of those things have foiled much more experienced quarterbacks.

On the run: Vanderbilt has proved it will run the football. It has had at least 35 rushes in every game this season and is one of four SEC teams with more than 400 rushing attempts this season. Ralph Webb has rushed for 99 yards or more each of the last four weeks, and Darrius Sims (pictured) has gotten more opportunities. Oh, and Texas A&M has the SEC’s worst run defense.

Consistent inconsistency: It has been more than a month since Texas A&M put together two good games in a row – and it’s not clear whether last Saturday’s 41-17 victory over Western Carolina qualifies as a good performance. The Aggies have lost three of their last four conference games as their point production yo-yoed from 23 to three to 35 to 10. They seem just as likely to lay an egg as they are to put up the big numbers they traditionally have during their brief time in the SEC.

Three reasons to believe Vanderbilt will lose Saturday

Kid quarterback: Kyle Shurmur has settled the Vanderbilt offense but has no exactly ignited it. Yes, the Commodores have won two of the three games he started (Missouri and Kentucky) but they have averaged just 13.3 points in those games. The Aggies have some real playmakers on their defense, most notably defensive end Myles Garrett, who will exploit any bit of inexperience that shows.

Getting started: The Commodores finally scored a first-quarter touchdown last Saturday against Kentucky but they still have scored just 16 first-quarter points all season. A&M has scored 14 or more in the first quarter three times and is 5-0 this season when it leads after the first quarter. Vanderbilt has to keep a lid on things early.

Getting Streaky: The good news is that Vanderbilt has won four of its last eight games. The bad news is that it still has not managed back-to-back victories under Mason. In that light, the victory over Kentucky looks more like a harbinger of doom than a sign that this team has taken a significant step forward.

The bottom line

A month ago this looked like a game in which Vanderbilt would have no chance. Texas A&M undeniably remains the favorite but a much less convincing one.

The Commodores have found their formula: Rely on the defense to keep the opposing team’s score down, hope the offense does not make too many mistakes and find just enough points to get the win.

They’ll need to stick with that approach — only do it even better than they have thus far — if they want to win this one.

(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt Athletics)

Nov 20, 2015 1:55 PM

Commodores have come a long way in keeping quarterbacks contained

Even during good times of the not-too-distant past, Vanderbilt was not so good against running quarterbacks.

With head coach Derek Mason as the signal caller this season, though, the Commodores have made it difficult for opposing passers to do anything but throw it. None has run for more than 39 yards, which has a lot to do with why Vanderbilt is fourth in the SEC in scoring defense and fifth in rushing defense.

Just how far the defense has come in that regard will be evident in the final two weeks of the regular season, when Vanderbilt faces two of the SEC’s top three running quarterbacks.

Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs is the SEC’s leader in rushing yards by a quarterback (476) and A&M’s Kyler Murray (pictured) is third (353). First up is Murray, who faces the Commodores on Saturday (6:30 p.m., SEC Network).

“At practice we do a lot of drills to kind of pocket the quarterback and not let him get loose,” Vanderbilt senior linebacker Darreon Herring said. “If he’s running to one side [we] make sure that the person chasing him is climbing high so he won’t cut back to the other side of the field. It’s just little things like that we do in practice to kind of help us out.”

A game-by-game look at how many rushing yards opposing quarterbacks have had against Vanderbilt this season:

• Western Kentucky: Brandon Doughty, minus-32 yards (5 carries)
• Georgia: Grayson Lambert, 2 yards (3 carries)
• Austin Peay: Taylor. minus-9 yards (7 carries)
• Ole Miss: Kelly, minus-10 yards (5 carries)
• Middle Tennessee State: Brent Stockstill, 11 yards (3 carries)
• South Carolina: Orth, minus-13 yards (4 carries)
• Missouri: Lock, 39 yards (8 carries)
• Houston: Gary Ward Jr., 33 yards (19 carries)
• Florida: Treon Harris, 34 yards (8 carries)
• Patrick Towles, 26 yards (8 carries)

Total: 81 yards (70 carries)

In 2012, Florida’s Jeff Driskel ran for 177 yards and three touchdowns and almost single-handedly led the Gators to a victory. That season opened with back-to-back losses, the first to South Carolina, which got 92 yards on 14 carries from Connor Shaw, and Northwestern, which got 66 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries by Kain Colter.

The next season, Bo Wallace scored two rushing touchdowns and led Ole Miss to a victory over Vanderbilt in the opener. Shaw had a game-high 84 rushing yards and Dylan Thompson added 23 yards and a touchdown for South Carolina, which again came out on top.

And so it went.

Those days – it seems – are gone.

Nov 19, 2015 1:34 PM

Webb willing, not worn down by SEC-leading workload

Ralph Webb does not often ask to come out of a game.

That’s why the Vanderbilt sophomore running back needs to spend some time in cold water.

“What Ralph told me (Tuesday) was that he needed to jump in the ice tub,” coach Derek Mason said. “He’s been going at it pretty hard, but I think at the end of the day, he knows — where we’re at in the season — he’s got to continue to push.”

Webb set a career-high with 33 carries — 11 of them in the fourth quarter — in last Sunday’s victory over Kentucky. That gave him 231 rushes for the season, which leads the Southeastern Conference and has him on pace to break Jermaine Johnson’s school record set 20 years ago.

He already is the only back in Vanderbilt history with more than 210 carries in multiple seasons.

A look at Vanderbilt’s leaders in single-season rush attempts:

Jermaine Johnson (1995) – 267
Ralph Webb (2015) – 231
Corey Harris (1991) – 229
Ralph Webb (2014) – 212
Zac Stacy (2012) – 208
Zac Stacy (2011) – 201
Jamie O’Rourke (1974) – 201

Six times in Vanderbilt’s first 10 games, he has carried 25 times or more. A year ago, he had that many just twice.

As the carries have added up, so have the yards: Webb is fourth in the SEC with 924 rushing yards. He already has set a school record for a sophomore (he set the freshman rushing record in 2014) and has a chance to become the fifth Commodore ever to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

“Ralph’s a great player,” senior center Spencer Pulley said. “He’s had a great season. He’s been great ever since he got here, so he deserves everything he gets.”

These days, he gets a lot of carries.

(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)

Nov 17, 2015 2:29 PM

Rio Grande De-Fence Briefing: Vanderbilt bottling up SEC offenses at rare rate

For much of this season, Vanderbilt’s football team has looked like throwback to the late 1990s, when the Commodores had a dominant defense but struggled on offense.

Turns out, we all were looking too far in the past.

With Saturday’s 21-17 victory over Kentucky, the current defense accomplished something none of coach Woody Widenhofer’s teams ever did.

It was the fourth straight time Vanderbilt held a Southeastern Conference opponent to fewer than 20 points. The last time that happened was 2008, the transformational season in which Bobby Johnson got the program to a bowl game for the first time in more than a quarter-century and attracted many of the recruits who formed the foundation of success during James Franklin’s three seasons as coach.

“These guys are very prideful about their red zone defense,” coach Derek Mason said. “We need to continue to forge ahead. These guys will get stingier and stingier.”

A look at the last three times Vanderbilt held four straight conference opponents to fewer than 20 points:




S.C. 19-Vanderbilt 10

Vanderbilt 24-S.C. 17

Vanderbilt 13-Florida 6

Vanderbilt 10-Missouri 3

Vanderbilt 23-Ole Miss 17

Vanderbilt 11-Kentucky 6

Florida 9-Vanderbilt 7

Vanderbilt 14-Auburn 13

Vanderbilt 6-Tulane 6

Vanderbilt 21, Kentucky 17

Miss. St. 17-Vanderbilt 14

Vanderbilt 14-Tenn. 0

Mason — who doubles as defensive coordinator — and his charges will try to extend the streak Saturday against Texas A&M. The Aggies average 30.8 points per game, which is seventh in the SEC, and are fourth in the conference with an average of 434 yards per game.

After that comes Tennessee, the SEC’s third highest-scoring offense.

Even if it ends, though, the streak already is noteworthy in its length.

“I feel like we go out there with the same mentality, whether they have to drive 80 yards or five or 10 yards,” safety Andrew Williamson said. “Our job is to keep them out of the end zone. When we go out there, that is what we want to do and that is everybody's mentality.”

(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)

Nov 16, 2015 10:48 AM

Highlight reel: Vanderbilt 21, Kentucky 17

Kyle Shurmur finally finished what he started.

Vanderbilt’s freshman quarterback made his third start in Saturday’s victory over Kentucky but for the first time played every offensive snap. The first time the plan was to ease him in by splitting reps with Johnny McCrary. He was knocked out of the second one with an injury.

This time, though, he and the rest of the offense did enough for the Commodores to build a lead in the first half (Shurmur threw his first two touchdown passes) and to protect it in the second half (27 runs and just 10 passes).

All the while the defense continued to do its thing – a goal-line stand, three forced turnovers and four third-down conversions allowed (on 16 attempts), etc.

A closer look at some the significant performers and junctures of the contest:

Oren Burks, sophomore, safety

In a span of 8:38 of the second quarter he increased the Commodores’ interception total on the season by 50 percent and tied fellow safety Jahmel McIntosh for the team lead with his first two of the season.

The first came in the end zone (with an assist from cornerback Toren McGaster) and allowed Vanderbilt to maintain a 7-3 lead after a Darrius Sims fumble on a punt return had given Kentucky the ball at the 4-yard line. Burks returned the second 30 yards for a touchdown and put the Commodores back in front, 14-10, with 5:10 left in the first half. It was Vanderbilt’s first touchdown on a return by the defense since last season at Kentucky.

Burks (pictured) added three tackles.

Honorable mention
• Caleb Scott, sophomore, WR: He set a career-high with 87 receiving yards (on three catches), including the two longest receptions of his career (37 and 36 yards) and his second touchdown.

• Toren McGaster, junior, cornerback: His six tackles were second on the team and included one tackle for a loss. He also broke up two passes, one of which resulted in an interception.

• Caleb Azubike, senior, outside linebacker: He had dour tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. Generally speaking, he was disruptive.

Caleb Scott’s 37-yard touchdown reception with 43 seconds to play in the first half

It was something of a trick play in that the offense huddled by the sideline during a timeout. When the players broke the huddle and ran onto the field, Scott acted as if he realized late he was not supposed to be on the field and – careful to go at least as far as the numbers first – turned back toward the bench. He stayed on the field, though, and crouched down in front of the sideline where no one on the Kentucky defense saw him.

When the ball was snapped, he was completely uncovered. Shurmur hit him with a pass and he ran untouched to the end zone.

It stretched the lead to 21-10 with 37 seconds remaining in the first half and ultimately turned out to be the decisive score.

Honorable mention
• Vanderbilt’s defense stopped Kentucky on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with five minutes to play in the first quarter: Down 3-0 the defense held after a Ralph Webb fumble, the defense made sure the offense did not have a big hill to climb.

• Azubike’s forced fumble (Jay Woods recovered), with 42 seconds to play in first quarter. The Commodores scored a touchdown – and took a 7-3 lead – on the next play, a one-yard touchdown pass from Shurmur to tight end Kyle Anderton (true freshman to true freshman).

• Kentucky’s missed 37-yard field goal with 10:21 to play. Austin MacGinnis was 8-for-8 on attempts of less than 40 yards but when he missed from 37 and cost Kentucky a chance to cut a four-point deficit to one, it put the Wildcats in a desperation mode the rest of the way.


• "He has gotten [pick-sixes] in practice. The quarterback looked at him the whole way... [Burks] stole it and [the play] ended in the end zone. I'm happy he got the monkey off his back because he does that in practice." – coach Derek Mason, on Burks’ touchdown.

• "We knew that the ball had to be on the right hash and it had to be where I would be on our sideline, so there were only two quarters where it could happen. It was a perfect opportunity. Coach looked at me and was like, 'all right we're doing it.’” – Scott, on his touchdown reception.

• “Every week we have come back and practiced harder, and this week was a great week of preparation. I think we won the game all up until kickoff and then we went out and were able to do what we prepared all week. We played hard, and everybody executed well and did everything they could to get the win.” – center Spencer Pulley, on the win.


Slim as they might be, Vanderbilt’s hopes for bowl eligibility are not finished. That’s the most important thing to come out of this one.

The remaining opponents, Texas A&M and Tennessee, present stiffer challenge than Kentucky did but Vanderbilt’s defense has shown it can hold pretty much any offense to a reasonable number of points. If the offense does not undermine efforts with turnovers, dropped passes and other mistakes – as has been the case recently – there’s still much this team can accomplish.

At least Saturday’s final home game will be – or should be – of interest to the home fans.

(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)

Nov 16, 2015 6:55 AM

Rio Grande De-Fence Briefing: Mason sees kindred spirit in Kentucky's Stoops

The numbers are different. The approach is not.

Derek Mason and Mark Stoops were accomplished defensive coordinators before they became head coaches, Mason at Vanderbilt and Stoops at Kentucky. Mason built his reputation at Stanford while Stoops earned his stripes at Florida State.

However, when their teams face one another at Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday (3 p.m., SEC Network) their like-minded approaches will be evident.

“We’re similar defenses,” Mason, who doubles as Vanderbilt’s defensive coordinator, said. “I love what Coach Stoops brings to the table. He’s a defensive-minded guy. We’ve been able to look at our defenses (and) they’re very much complementary of each other. They’re 3-4 defenses, in structure. We run a lot of the same calls. We do a lot of the same things.”

Right now, though, Vanderbilt is doing it better.

The Commodores (3-6, 1-4 in the SEC) have not won as many games as the Wildcats (4-5, 2-5) but their defense has made things much more difficult on opponents in terms of yards and points. Vanderbilt also has the edge in sacks and takeaways.





First downs/game



Rushing yards/game



Passing yards/game



Total yards/game



Average per play









Fumble recoveries




“I think Coach (Derek) Mason's done a great job,” Stoops said. “You can see the passion and the energy in their team, and on their defense in particular. No matter what their record is, they're out there playing extremely hard.”

Assuming Mason is correct in terms of the stylistic similarities, this week’s practices should have provided terrific prep for Vanderbilt’s offense, which has produced fewer yards and points than every other SEC team except Missouri.

“It’s interesting what they do because they can apply pressure,” Mason said. “Their secondary, at times, has been really opportunistic. They tackle well up front in the front seven and they do a great job of providing pressure, whether it’s run or pass.

“They’re going to challenge us.”

(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)

Nov 13, 2015 12:52 PM

Numbers game: Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky

The number that looms larger than all others is zero.

That is how many losses Vanderbilt can afford in its final three games and still make it to a bowl game.

The Commodores are 3-6 overall (1-4 in the SEC) as they approach Saturday’s game against Kentucky at Vanderbilt Stadium (3 p.m., SEC Network). They have yet to win consecutive contests, let alone three, but that is the challenge as it exists at the moment.

“We talked about it,” senior linebacker Darreon Herring said. “We are only guaranteed three more games, but we are trying to make it a guaranteed fourth. We are focusing on Kentucky this week, but at the end of the day it is in the back of our minds that we need to win out to go to a bowl game this year.”

A look at some other notable numbers in relation to the Vanderbilt-Kentucky contest:

3 – victories by Vanderbilt in its second season under coach Derek Mason (pictured). Of the program’s previous eight head coaches, dating back to the mid-1970s, only two won more than three times in their second seasons. Gerry DiNardo was 4-7 in 1992 and James Franklin was 9-4 in 2012. Five won just two games and one, Watson Brown in 1988, managed three wins.

6 – straight games to open Kentucky’s season decided by eight points or less. That’s the first time in program history that happened and the first time since 1975 it happened at any point in a season. The good news for the Wildcats is that they won four of the six, including two against conference opponents (South Carolina and Missouri). Their three games since then, all losses, have been decided by a minimum of 24 points.

18 – freshmen in the FBS with at least two interceptions this season. One is Kentucky’s Chris Westry, who has two. His latest snapped Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott’s streak of 288 consecutive passes without an interception. As a team, though, Kentucky has just six interceptions. Only Vanderbilt, among SEC programs, has fewer.

27 – straight victories by Kentucky when leading after the third quarter. That is the longest active streak in the SEC. Under current coach Mark Stoops the Wildcats are 10-0 when they have led after the third quarter.

66 – penalties by Vanderbilt’s opponents for an average of 59.9 yards per game. Both rank as the most in the SEC. The Commodores have been the least penalized team in five of their nine games, including each of the last two.

67 – rushing yards Ralph Webb needs to set the Vanderbilt record for most by a sophomore. He currently has 811 and is second to Jermaine Johnson, who had 877 in 1994. Webb set the Commodores’ freshman rushing record with 907 last season and is currently 10th all-time with 1,718 yards.

(Photo: Joe Howell/Vanderbilt athletics)

Nov 12, 2015 1:12 PM