Mason happy to have been in position for Spurrier's verbal jabs

In case there were any doubters, Derek Mason officially is a member of the fraternity of Southeastern Conference football coaches.

That status was not a result of the fact that Vanderbilt hired him as head coach. It was conferred upon him when Steve Spurrier gigged him, a true rite of passage for anyone in the industry.

“I’ve had a chance to get to know him over the last 18 months,” Mason said Tuesday. “He’s jabbed me a couple times about being here at Vanderbilt and being a smart guy.

“He’s fun to be around. He’s infectious.”

Spurrier, of course, won’t be around Saturday when Mason takes his team to Columbia, S.C. for 25th all-time meeting between Vanderbilt and South Carolina (3 p.m., SEC Network). The legendary coach officially retired – effectively immediately – with his team at 2-4 (0-4 in the SEC).

“Coach Spurrier is a legend both on and off the field,” Mason said. “When I look at what he’s done – he’s been part of the fabric and culture of the SEC for a long time. He’s done a lot of great things for this conference, both as a player and coach.

“He’s always been who he is. He is a great man of integrity. He’s done a great job of educating young men. He’s been a champion of what they need. And he’s done a great job of mentoring coaches and making sure that he was always above board.”

Mason lost his only meeting with Spurrier. The Gamecocks defeated the Commodores 48-34 last season at Vanderbilt Stadium.

This time, the second-year coach said, a far greater loss has occurred even before kickoff.

“He’s always courteous but by the same token he’s always competitive and I’ve always admired that about him – who he is, what he is, how he coaches and how he’s been able to coach and transcend the years in college football because it’s not easy,” Mason said. “… As I look at what he’s been over the years, he is as special to college football as they come. We’ll miss him.”

Oct 13, 2015 1:42 PM

Spurrier deprives Commodores of one last chance to improve record against him

Steve Spurrier’s decision to resign effective immediately on Monday means Vanderbilt won’t have to face him Saturday when it plays at South Carolina.

It does, however, guarantee the Commodores a notable place in the career of one of the game’s greatest coaches.

In 22 all-time meetings, Spurrier lost just twice to Vanderbilt, in 2007 and 2008. That .909 winning percentage is his best against any opponent he faced a significant number of times and the 20 victories equal his most against any single opponent.

Spurrier came into this season with matching 20-2 marks against Vanderbilt and Kentucky. He lost to the latter 26-22 on Sept. 12, the conference opener for both teams.

The Commodores won’t get their last crack at him.

A look at the teams against which Steve Spurrier has the most victories as a head coach:

Vanderbilt – 20 (22 games)
Kentucky – 20 (23 games)
Georgia 16 (23 games)
Tennessee – 14 (24 games)
LSU – 11 (16 games)
South Carolina – 10 (11 games)
Auburn – 10 (19 games)

Sports Illustrated broke the news of Spurrier’s decision Monday night. He steps down as South Carolina’s all-time winningest coach and No. 13 all-time with 228 victories. He won a national championship with Florida in 1996 and had 13 teams finish the season ranked in the top 10, including three straight at South Carolina from 2011-13.

"He's probably the most competitive guy I've ever known, but he's also one of the most genuine guys I've ever known,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, a former defensive coordinator under Spurrier, told “He's special."

(Photo: Getty Images)

Oct 13, 2015 7:45 AM

Highlight reel: Vanderbilt 17, MTSU 13

The end of Vanderbilt’s 17-13 victory at Middle Tennessee State on Saturday was dramatically different from the rest of the contest.

For more than three quarters the Commodores struggled to score because – among other things – they turned the ball over. Then they turned it around with two touchdowns in the final 6:14 and delivered coach Derek Mason his first win in a road game.

A further look at some of the notable performers and moments from the game:

Ralph Webb, running back

When Vanderbilt needed key yards Webb came through in a big way. There were times where it seemed like he was the entire Vanderbilt offense himself.

He finished 25 carries for 155 yards, none bigger than his 39-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, which clinched the game for Vanderbilt.

Honorable Mention
• Trent Sherfield, WR: He had a relatively quiet evening until Vanderbilt needed a big play. He had a couple of big catches and went 34 yards on an end-aorund. He finished with six catches and 97 yards of total offense.

Ed Batties, wide receiver

When teammate Richie James went down with an injury, Batties stepped up and started making plays for MTSU. In the fourth quarter with MTSU driving, Batties leaped in the air between two Vanderbilt defenders and hauled in a Brent Stockstill pass for the first touchdown of the game.

He ended the night with 10 receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown.

Honorable Mention
• Richie James, WR: James was having yet another solid game before he was hurt in the third quarter. He had eight receptions for 95 yards, five of which went for first downs.
• Kevin Byard, S: He had four tackles, a pass breakup, and an interception for 25 yards. The interception was the 17th of his career, tying him with James Griffin for the school’s all-time record.

Webb 39-yard touchdown run

On a third and one the Commodores once again went to their workhorse. Webb took the handoff and broke free from a couple of MTSU defenders for a 39-yard score to give Vanderbilt its first lead of the game.

The touchdown run capped off Webb’s first 100-yard game of the season and third of his career.


"It was disappointing. We had a chance to put it away and just weren't able to do it. I'm really proud of our team and how they fought and competed. We'll struggle until we can run the ball. Give Vanderbilt credit, we missed a couple tackles. We've had two tough, gut-wrenching games back-to-back, but we still have a chance to reach our goals. This one hurts equally as much as last week." – MTSU coach Rick Stockstill on the disappointing loss

"This was an ugly football game with the turnovers and miscues. We had an inability to convert offensively on third down and defensively to get off the field. They gave us a great ball game, but at the end of the day, our football team grew up tonight. It was the first road win since I have been here and that's huge for this young football team." – Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason on pulling off a tough road win

"The quarterback made a few plays with his feet keeping the play alive. They also got a couple lucky bounces, but we busted a few coverages and lost some leverage; I definitely put the game on us.” – Byard on Vanderbilt’s fourth quarter comeback


For what was a defensive battle for most of the game, it came down to plays in the fourth quarter, when both teams produced their best offense.

Despite two turnovers earlier in the contest, Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary used his legs to get the Commodores into the end zone. His touchdown run brought Vanderbilt within three points and started to sway the momentum in his team’s favor. 

For the second straight week MTSU suffered a heartbreaking loss in the final minutes. The defense held Vanderbilt to 177 yards passing and forced three turnovers but gave up big plays late.

The Commodores needed this victory. The Blue Raiders need to figure out how to finish contests such as this.

(Photo: John Russell/Vanderbilt athletics)

Oct 5, 2015 7:37 AM

Time (of possession) on Vanderbilt's side this season

Vanderbilt’s offense is selfish.

In terms of football, that’s a good thing.

The Commodores rank among the top 20 in the FBS (they’re 18th, to be exact) in time of possession and have had the ball more than their opponents in each of their first four games.

The last time the Commodores had the edge in four consecutive games was the final four contests of 2013. Then, they won all four, including the BBVA Compass Bowl, and finished the season 9-4.

Victories have not come nearly as often with this season’s hoggish performances but such possession proficiency does have its benefits.

"You can tell in the third and fourth quarter that defenders are starting to get tired,” tight end Steven Scheu said. “When you see that, you kind of know that you have them where you want them, and we are definitely improving in that aspect."

Vanderbilt has had the edge in possession time in 12 of this season’s 16 quarters. In every contest there has been one in which it has the ball for more than 10 minutes. Three times that quarter was the first and the other (Western Kentucky) it was the second.

A year ago they won time of possession just four times – period – in 12 games.

A quarter-by-quarter look at Vanderbilt’s time of possession in each of its first four games:




Austin Peay

Ole Miss



























It’s not hard to figure why the Commodores have held the ball so much longer than last season.

Under first-year coordinator Andy Ludwig, they have averaged 22 first downs and 8.3 third-down conversions per contest. A year ago, those numbers were 16.1 and 3.8, respectively. They already have 33 third-down conversions and at their current pace they will surpass their 2014 total (46) before the end of their sixth game.

“There are no moral victories for us,” coach Derek Mason said. “This team wants to win ball games, and we're going to put ourselves in position to win ball games.”

Having the ball is a good place to start.

Oct 1, 2015 6:47 AM

Vanderbilt's Sherfield one of 13 added to Biletnikoff watch list

Trent Sherfield has caught enough passes – particularly the last two weeks -- to catch the attention of those who administer one of college football’s top individual honors.

The Vanderbilt sophomore was one of 13 players added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list Tuesday. The original watch list included 50 players.

Middle Tennessee State’s Ed’Marques Batties also was among the additions.

Sherfield and Batties will have their own personal battle Saturday when the Commodores play the Blue Raiders at Murfreesboro (6 p.m., CBS Sports Network) in MTSU’s homecoming contest.

Sherfield leads the Southeastern Conference in receptions (28) and is second in receiving yards (402). He is one of 17 FBS players with more than 400 receiving yards and is 12th in total receptions.

He has had 23 catches for 295 yards in the last two games.

“You just have to keep working and just try to maintain that top position,” Sherfield said last week. “I’m not really too worried about the stats. I’m just coming out here and trying to play and dominate every chance I get.”

The last Vanderbilt receiver to make the list was Jordan Matthews in 2013. Matthews ended up a semifinalist.

Batties is third in Conference USA with 30 catches and is second with 446 receiving yards. His seven receiving touchdowns are second in the FBS.

“Ed'Marques Batties … is unbelievable,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “A talented receiver, game-breaker, explosive who can make some plays.”

The Biletnikoff Award honors the country’s top pass catcher (wide receiver, tight end or running back). The Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation administers the award, which will be presented Dec. 10 during ESPN's The Home Depot College Awards.

(Photo: Joe Howell/Vanderbilt athletics)

Sep 29, 2015 10:17 PM

MTSU ready to welcome Vanderbilt, hopes Blue Raiders fans show, too

Middle Tennessee does not have much time to dwell on its tough, last-minute loss at Illinois.

Up next is Vanderbilt in a matchup that has been a long time coming. The Commodores will make their first trip to Murfreesboro since 1920.

“There have been a lot of rumors that this game is going to be sold out and we're finally going to have a real electric crowd here in Murfreesboro and that will be great,” Blue Raiders safety Kevin Byard said. “… It's going to be a great experience. We have played a lot of big schools this year, but we went into every single game expecting to win those games.

“We don't go into games expecting to lose no matter who the opponent is. It's just another game and we're going to go into it expecting to win.”

Since Floyd Stadium was expanded in 1998 as part of the football program’s transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Blue Raiders have not played to a full house.

Saturday’s contest (6 p.m., CBS Sports Network) will be the first in a four-game series in which each team will host the other twice from now through 2018. So if this one does not fill every seat another opportunity awaits in 2017.

"This is the first time we have played Vanderbilt in 10 years,” coach Rick Stockstill said. “I always say that it takes time to build these games up. I know our staff and our players feel excited that we get a chance to play and SEC team.”

Middle Tennessee has won the previous three games in the series but overall is 3-12 against Vanderbilt. The last three meetings have been close contests.

In 2001 Middle Tennessee won 37-28 at Vanderbilt Stadium. That was the first meeting between the two schools since 1956. In 2002 Middle Tennessee came out on top 21-20 after scoring on a last minute drive. The most recent meeting, in 2005, Middle Tennessee blocked a last-minute field goal and topped then unbeaten Vanderbilt (4-0) 17-15.

“Everybody always says that the SEC is the best conference in the country,” Byard said. “Anytime we get a chance to play those guys it's special. It means something to us this week I can promise you that. It's an SEC team so of course you always want to beat an SEC team. I'm not really going to look into that too much. I didn't look too much at the Alabama game like that."

Sep 29, 2015 2:13 PM

Rio Grande De-Fence Briefing: Vanderbilt tough on top offenses

Derek Mason says there is no secret to Vanderbilt’s play on defense.

The word is out, though. It is tough to move the ball against the Commodores.

Vanderbilt has faced three FBS opponents in its first four games and all three boast high-output, high-scoring offenses, none of which produced at the same level against the Commodores, with the exception of Georgia’s rushing offense.

“We just do what we do. I do not think there is any secret sauce,” coach Derek Mason, who doubles as defensive coordinator said following Saturday’s loss to Ole Miss. “I think it is in who we are and how we play and how we function.”

A comparison of season averages on offense versus performance against Vanderbilt for the Commodores’ three FBS opponents:

Western Kentucky


Season avg.

vs. Vanderbilt
















Season avg.

vs. Vanderbilt














Ole Miss


Season avg.

vs. Vanderbilt














Ole Miss second in the country in scoring offense and Georgia is in the top 15. They are the SEC’s top two in total offense, and the Rebels are first in the conference in passing offense while the Bulldogs are first in rushing offense.

Western Kentucky is just outside the top 20 in FBS for total offense.

So it’s not as if Vanderbilt hasn’t been tested.

“We are going to continue to get better,” Mason said. “Teams are not going to want to see us in October and November.”

Up next – on the first weekend in October – is Middle Tennessee State, which twice has scored more than 70 points and is currently 12th in the country (just behind Georgia) in scoring offense at 44.5 points per game.

(Photo: Joe Howell/Vanderbilt athletics)

Sep 28, 2015 11:34 AM

Highlight reel: Ole Miss 27, Vanderbilt 16

Vanderbilt did more than just make things interesting.

There were chances Saturday night for the Commodores to take control at Ole Miss. It was tied midway through the third quarter after Vanderbilt scored on its first two second-half possessions. Then a blocked punt and a missed field goal – among other things – allowed the Rebels to pull away and defeat Vanderbilt 27-16.

A look at some of the notable performers and moments from a promising, but ultimately disappointing performance:


Zach Cunningham, sophomore, linebacker

He led the defense with 11 tackles, including 1 ½ tackles for loss and one sack.

Three times he made tackles on first-and-goal from the 1 or 2-yard line. In one case, Ole Miss eventually got a touchdown. The others started a goal line stand that ended with the Rebels kicking a field goal.

He also had one third-down stop that forced a punt on a night when Ole Miss’ high-powered offense converted just three times in 13 attempts.

The only time he’s had more stops in a game was last year at Mississippi State, when the defense was on the field all night and could not make a stop. This was a much different performance.

Honorable mention
• Ralph Webb, RB: He ran for a season-high 90 yards, the third time in his career  he’s rushed for at least 90 against an SEC opponent. His effort included a career-best 43-yard run that led to the game-tying touchdown midway through the third quarter.

• Stephen Weatherly, OLB (pictured): He had three tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. In short: He was a general menace for the Ole Miss offense.

• Nifae Lealao, DT: He blocked a second-half Ole Miss field goal attempt that would have made it a two-score game and a little more than three minutes later it was a tie game.

The fair catch interference penalty against snapper Jacob Schultz with 3:47 to play in the first half

Vanderbilt was within a touchdown and was hanging around early when Ole Miss returner Carlos Davis allowed a punt to bounce right off his chest. Schultz went the ground and the Commodores seemingly were in business in Rebels’ territory.

Officials inexplicably threw the flag and awarded possession to Ole Miss even though Schultz was a good three yards or more – and stationary – from Davis when the ball arrived.

There’s no guarantee that Vanderbilt would have converted that opportunity into points but it should have had the chance to try – and it would have made the final minutes of the half much more interesting.

Honorable mention
• Oren Burks’ interception 1:43 into the contest: It was the first takeaway for the Vanderbilt defense this season and the first sign that it was going to be a much tougher test for the Ole Miss offense than most anticipated.

• Tommy Openshaw’s 28-yard field goal with 3:17 left in the first quarter: It gave the Commodores a 3-0 lead, which was the first time all season Ole Miss trailed.

• Openshaw’s missed field goal with 9:28 to play: After the defense’s second interception Vanderbilt failed to produce any points. This kick (32 yards) would have made it a one-point game.


• “To be great you have to be bigger than the moment. We just were not bigger than the moment. That is okay. We will take a look at it we fix it.” – Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason, on the game.

• “I feel like anytime we get down to the red zone or the maroon zone or close to scoring and we don’t convert, it just sets you back. Our job is to score, so at any time we don’t score I feel pretty bad about it.” – quarterback Johnny McCrary, on the continued red zone struggles.

• “A lot of credit goes to Vanderbilt. They are a better team than people give them credit for.” – Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze.


This team is a lot better than it was a year ago and has come a long way since the start of the season. At 1-3 (0-2 in the SEC), it’s still a long way from bowl eligibility.

It was not that long ago that this type of result would have been deemed acceptable. No one can argue with the effort or the overall performance but Vanderbilt still does not do enough of the little things that make good football winning football, and those things are critical in games against teams as talented as Ole Miss.

(Photo: Joe Howell/Vanderbilt athletics)

Sep 28, 2015 6:37 AM

Reasons to believe: Vanderbilt at Ole Miss

Vanderbilt finally takes its show on the road.

After three straight home games to open the 2015 season, the Commodores (1-2, 0-1) play their first away game Saturday, the first of five in their next six contests.

This isn't just any road trip, either. They must travel to Oxford to face Ole Miss (3-0, 1-0), an early favorite to win the SEC and be the conference’s representative in this year’s College Football Playoff. Kickoff is 6 p.m. (ESPNU).


Three reasons to believe Vanderbilt will win Saturday

Confidence boost: Austin Peay was the right opponent at the right time for the Commodores last week. After two respectable performances, Vanderbilt took advantage of an overmatched opponent and took the next step in a lot of areas. Now it is up to everyone to hang on to all that positive reinforcement and do the same things against much tougher competition.

History repeating: Other than Kentucky, there is not an SEC team Vanderbilt has been more competitive with in recent years than Ole Miss. The Commodores, in fact, have won six of the last 10 meetings and two of their four losses were by a touchdown or less, including that remarkable 39-35 defeat in the 2013 season opener. If the Commodores are going to be good, they usually show it against the Rebels.

Alabama hangover: Ole Miss is one week removed from a highly emotional and physically challenging 43-37 victory at Alabama. It’s ranked in the top five of the two major college football polls. It is featured on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated. If ever a team was in line for a let-down, this is the one and — unlike a year ago — Vanderbilt is good enough to take advantage of a team that falls well short of its best effort.

Three reasons to believe Vanderbilt won’t win Saturday

Star power: Ole Miss has landed some of the country’s top recruits in recent years and those talent hauls have started to pay serious dividends. No player has lived up to expectations more than junior Robert Nkemdiche (pictured). The 6-foot-4, 296-pound defensive tackle has 11 tackles, 3 ½ of them for losses. He’s also blocked a field goal attempt and — for good measure — has caught a pass for 31 yards. He’s a disruptive force teams must account for on every snap.

Where it counts: Vanderbilt clearly has struggled to convert in the red zone. Ole Miss just as clearly has not. The Rebels have been inside their opponents’ 20-yard line 15 times and scored points all 15 times (12 touchdowns, three field goals). They are one of 21 teams that has scored every time they have been in the red zone but their average of five red zone possessions per game is the highest among that group.

Getting started: Ole Miss has outscored its opponents 58-0 in the first quarter of its first three games. Vanderbilt has yet to score a point in the first quarter. In fact, the Commodores have gone scoreless through the first 15 minutes of their last five games, dating back to last season. It’s often said you can’t win a game in the first quarter but you can lose it. Ole Miss might actually be able to win it in the first.

The bottom line

Ole Miss is the better team, has all the momentum and confidence in the world and should win this game comfortably. Last week was a step in the right direction for Vanderbilt but this is a big step up in competition. Too big a step for anyone to think the Commodores have a realistic chance at victory.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sep 25, 2015 10:40 AM

Vanderbilt transfer could have big role in Florida-Tennessee game

Josh Grady alternated between quarterback and wide receiver during his three years at Vanderbilt.

He might end up doing both in his fourth game for Florida.

Because Florida suspended two players this week, including quarterback Treon Harris, Grady, who transferred in May, is listed as the backup quarterback for Saturday’s game against the University of Tennessee (2:30 p.m., CBS).

“Yeah, he'd been doing it anyway in some of the packages we have, so glad he's here,” first-year coach Jim McElwain said Wednesday, according to The Gainesville Sun.

In the first three games the 6-foot-, 200-pound Florida native exclusively has played wide receiver. However, first-year coach Jim McElwain said he and his staff could find opportunities to play Grady.

“We've worked some special packages with guys back there with the quarterback that maybe aren't traditional quarterbacks,” McElwain said. “Maybe we'll see a little bit of the Gatortail this week."

Gatortail is Florida’s version of the Wildcat, and according to The Sun, Grady was the primary quarterback in that set throughout preseason camp.

Grady signed with Vanderbilt as a quarterback but after a redshirt season in 2011 he played wide receiver and Wildcat quarterback for the Commodores. He returned to quarterback prior to the 2013 season and saw limited action that fall before an injury sidelined him. He returned to wide receiver in 2014 but did not catch a pass in eight appearances.

This season he has caught one pass for 25 yards, completed the only pass he attempted for three yards and ran the ball twice for 21 yards.

Sep 24, 2015 10:26 PM