2015 Vanderbilt football preview

Last updated on August 21st, 2015 at 10:20 am

Derek Mason, Vanderbilt’s new head football coach Photo: Vanderbilt

Derek Mason, Vanderbilt’s head football coach
Photo: Vanderbilt

It was the glory days for Vanderbilt football, and then Derek Mason happened. To say the 2014 Vanderbilt football season was a disaster would be an understatement. To say it was a disappointment would not even be scratching the surface. To say Derek Mason was a head coach without a clue would be kind.

It was not just the case of adjusting from the most successful on-field coach Vanderbilt had since McGugin to a first-time head coach. It was a case of that first-time head coach having absolutely no concept how to do absolutely anything. Every conceivable thing Mason touched was botched, from his handling of quarterbacks, to game management, to delegation among his coaches, to embracing what had been successful. By halftime of the season opener against Temple, it was clear that all the progress so hard fought for had been destroyed. Bobby Johnson built the foundation for success; James Franklin turned it into fruition; and not even the emergency fill-in coach and ex-turkey inseminator Robbie Caldwell had messed it all up. But Mason did.

Now Vanderbilt starts 2015 with no momentum, no respect from anyone, no belief from anyone, even worse ticket sales than the Johnson years, and looking up at virtually everyone else—again. Derek Mason did all that in one season, a 3-9 season, a winless SEC season where being competitive was rare. It was a regrettable hire conducted in a regrettable way, and Mason is back trying to redeem himself. Fortunately for Vanderbilt fans, Mason has done almost as good a job renouncing what he did in 2014 than he did renouncing what James Franklin had done from 2011-2013.

Mason, with some urging, has decided to focus on what he allegedly knows, defense, and delegate elsewhere. Andy Ludwig comes in as offensive coordinator from Wisconsin, and Mason vows he will let him do his job. Vandy has a mess at quarterback where competition has been ongoing. Mason determined there should be one main guy. Unfortunately for Vandy, but fortunately for himself, Patton Robinette has moved on due to concussion issues. He is now in Medical School and he will contribute greatly to anywhere he goes in the future. Stephen Rivers has moved on leaving sophomores Johnny McCrary and Wade Freebeck, along with true freshman Kyle Shurmur, as contenders.

McCrary is the favorite as he fits better into Ludwig’s system, but that is far from set. Whoever is under center, the offense will be built around sophomore RB Ralph Webb. Webb benefitted from the coaching gaffes at the RB position that saw all-conference Jerron Seymour abandoned and Brian Kimbrow sent packing. If the o-line can keep him healthy, and the workload is not too great, Webb could be all-conference himself. Out wide there is little to stretch a field though, complicating matters. Jake Bernstein and Andrew Jelks are the best upfront where they must improve.

Defense will be the strength of this team; Mason did coach top defenses at Stanford. I believe this defense could be top-20 in the country, which would put it in the top half of the conference. Caleb Azubike should have been first team all SEC in preseason. He will make believers. Nigel Bowden and Stephen Weatherly return at linebacker, and Taurean Ferguson and Torren McGaster could be one of the best corner tandems in the SEC by season’s end.

Vanderbilt is back to the bottom, and it did not have to be. The schedule is rugged out-of-conference with only Austin Peay a sure victory. They will be better, but improving on 3-9 is unlikely.