Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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32 SEPT. 17, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY COREY BODDEN D erek Mason enters a critical fifth year in his time at the helm of the Vanderbilt pro- gram with his seat potentially becoming a little warmer. After winning nine games in back-to-back seasons in 2012 and 2013, the Commodores are 20-31 overall, including 6-26 in the South- eastern Conference, under Mason's leadership. A 2-7 finish in 2017 didn't help the cause following a 3-0 start, which included a quality win over Kansas State. Though a strong record may not be required, Mason will need to show steps in the right direction on the field in 2018 to return for a sixth year. The Commodores' first major test of the new campaign comes in the form of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Sept. 15. It will be the first meet- ing between the two programs since back-to-back matchups in 1995 and 1996 — both won by Notre Dame. Mason made a name for himself on defense while climbing the coach- ing ladder, and the Commodores fin- ished in the top 35 nationally in 2015 and 2016 in points allowed per game. However, the group took a step back in 2017 during a 5-7 campaign, rank- ing 89th overall with an average of 31.3 points allowed per game. That number ballooned to a 43.3-point clip in SEC play. With just a handful of starters re- turning from a year ago, the Vander- bilt defense was the dominant sto- ryline during the offseason. Mason surrendered play-calling duties on that side of the ball and added for- mer Oakland Raiders defensive coor- dinator Jason Tarver to handle those responsibilities. "They've going to be more aggres- sive," publisher Chris Lee said of the changes in the team's defensive game plan. "They forced nine turnovers last year, and it got two in its first game alone [against Middle Tennessee]. It also had six sacks, which it was able to do without much blitzing. "The question is whether they'll be willing to take risks with send- ing extra men when a four-man pass rush won't cut it against better lines. The jury's out on that, though they SEARCHING FOR HISTORY The Commodores come to South Bend looking for the third win in program history against a ranked non-SEC foe Vanderbilt senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur tossed a single-season school-record 26 passing touch- downs in 2017. PHOTO COURTESY VANDERBILT ATHLETICS

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