NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is trying to take the long view of how playing some of the nation’s top teams early in the season will help his Commodores.
Still, the coach isn’t looking for moral victories.
“That’s not what this game is about,” Mason said. “Now as a coach you got to step back and make sure you don’t overreact to anything that you see. But I understand that right now this game is critical to us. I know it’s critical to LSU, but it’s critical to us too. We feel like we need to play our best ball. We need it now, and that’s what we’re playing to do on Saturday is play our best.”
Whoever scheduled No. 3 Georgia to open this season at Vanderbilt and then slotted No. 4 LSU for Saturday did Mason and the Commodores no favors. A road trip to Purdue squeezed in the middle didn’t help either with a 42-24 loss, though Vanderbilt (0-2, 0-1) at least had a week off before hosting LSU (3-0) for the Tigers’ Southeastern Conference opener.
“The reality is that’s the draw,” Mason said.
LSU has opened with one game against a top 10 team, a 45-38 win over then-No. 9 Texas. LSU coach Ed Orgeron says Vanderbilt has had a tough stretch to open the season.
“They’ve played two good teams,” Orgeron said. “Obviously, Georgia’s going to be a contender in the national hunt, and Purdue’s a good football team. So, they’ve had two tough teams in a row. They’re a lot better team than their record is.”
Some other things to know about LSU and Vanderbilt:
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow and Orgeron credit the Tigers’ receivers for a passing attack that has had unprecedented success at a program long known for power running. Burrow has completed 75 of 90 passes (83.3 percent) for 1,122 yards and 11 touchdowns already.
The Tigers’ leading receiving trio of Justin Jefferson (19 catches, 374 yards, four TDs), Terrace Marshall Jr. (16 catches, 229 yards, six TDs) and Ja’Marr Chase (10 catches, 168 yards, one TD) all saw extensive playing time a season ago with Burrow. They also worked together over the summer on routes and timing.
“The receivers are catching every ball I throw to them whether they’re covered or not,” Burrow said. “I’m throwing the ball before they’re coming out of the break, and they’re exactly where I expect them to be, when I expect them to be there. Last year, it wasn’t that way.”
LSU played without several prominent players on its defensive front last week, and not much has changed. Orgeron has ruled both defensive end Rashard Lawrence and defensive tackle Glen Logan out at Vanderbilt. Orgeron also was unsure if top pass-rushing outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson will be ready after resting during last week’s 65-14 win over Northwestern State.
The secondary also has taken a hit. Safety Todd Harris has been ruled out for the season because of a knee injury last weekend. JaCoby Stevens, who often plays the role as a hybrid safety-linebacker is expected to drop back to Harris’ spot.
Not hurting themselves has been one thing the Commodores have managed very well for years and under different coaches. Not this season. Vanderbilt is the most penalized team in the SEC, and Mason said too many of the flags have been thrown for issues before the snap and after a whistle. Vanderbilt has 23 penalties through two games and is averaging a league-high 81.5 yards per game in penalty yards.
Orgeron and Mason both coached in the Pac-12 Conference between 2010-2013 — Orgeron with USC and Mason at Stanford. The LSU coach said he holds Mason in high regard personally and professionally. “We go to the SEC coaching meetings — he’s one of the best guys there. He’s easy to talk to. He’s a good guy. He’s very personable, and I wish him the very best. I think he’s an excellent coach,” Orgeron said.
I KNOW YOU
Mason knows Burrow well after coaching with the LSU quarterback’s father, Jimmy, at Ohio University. “Right now he’s one of the hottest quarterbacks in the country, so we know we got our work cut out for us,” Mason said.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this report.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker