NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Derek Mason and his Vanderbilt Commodores believe they have learned how to better handle a good start to the season and the challenge of facing a tough opponent.
A year ago, Vanderbilt had opened with a 3-0 start that included an upset of a Top 25 team in Kansas State . Then the Commodores hosted top-ranked Alabama.
The Crimson Tide routed Vanderbilt 59-0, sending the Commodores on a five-game skid that helped cost them a second straight bowl berth.
Now the Commodores (2-0) are coming off big wins to open the season, and their first road game comes Saturday at No. 8 Notre Dame. Mason is confident they’re in a better position now.
“We’re going to take the best team I believe that I’ve had in my tenure, go to Notre Dame and try to get a win,” Mason said Tuesday. “We’re confident enough to work hard in practice but respectful enough to understand who they are and what they’ve done to know it’s no easy task.”
Part of that confidence stems from the painful lessons learned a year ago on the need to focus on the task at hand. Don’t get too high, or too low. Mason said the key is staying composed and not letting the venue, opponent or atmosphere take his Commodores out of their game.
Mason sees his Commodores being eager to play well, knowing that Notre Dame (2-0) is good enough to expose their weaknesses.
“The bottom line is can we overcome that adversity to play well?” Mason said. “Great teams have been able to expose what we don’t do well, and what we have to do is make sure that we minimize we minimize that and maximize our opportunities. So that’s what we planned on doing on Saturday. So I look forward to seeing this team play.”
Notre Dame won the only two games between these programs in the mid-1990s. Mason has coached with his defensive coordinator, Jason Tarver, at Notre Dame before, so he plans on taking the Commodores to South Bend, Indiana, on Friday. Mason wants his Commodores to appreciate the Fighting Irish’s history, then focus on the game itself.
“We’re playing a team that’s very similar to us with probably better history and better pedigree all the way around,” Mason said.
Whatever happens, Vanderbilt will have to respond better over the next month of their schedule. The Commodores were outscored 233-100 in that five-game skid. Alabama is nowhere on this year’s schedule, but they host South Carolina on Sept. 22 with a visit to No. 3 Georgia on Oct. 6.
The Commodores have plenty of experience. Senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur is one of eight starters on offense who is a junior or better. There are seven such starters on defense, and the depth chart has 26 Commodores who are upperclassmen.
Running back Khari Blasingame, one of six Commodores working on postgraduate degrees, said they are more mature and facing a different set of circumstances.
“We’re a totally different team,” Blasingame said.
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