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Vanderbilt's Derek Mason on Zach Cunningham's Play, Kyle Shurmur's Progress, More

Vanderbilt football coach Derek Mason spoke with reporters on Wednesday morning on the Southeastern Conference teleconference.

Vanderbilt football coach Derek Mason spoke with reporters on the Southeastern Conference teleconference on Wednesday morning. 

Here’s what the Vanderbilt coach said during his time with reporters in advance of Saturday’s SEC contest at Missouri.

Opening statement…

“We’re fully healthy. We played a tough game in the plains versus Auburn. We’re disappointed that we came on the short end of that but our guys competed. Our guys have some confidence coming out of that game. We’ve been able to go into hostile places and play pretty solid all year long. This group continues to get better. We just need to limit the lapses in execution and make sure we consistently play the type of ball that we want to play. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur I think continues to get better each week. The offensive line is doing good things. Defensively, we have to continue to deal with the pace of play that we’re gonna see down the stretch and that’s been a heavy emphasis for us as we’ve gotten into the Missouri practice.”

On Zach Cunningham's leaping blocked field goal against Auburn…

“I was excited to see him get over the top. Once he was over the top I knew he had a chance to block it. I just wished we could have scooped and scored. Zach Cunningham is a tremendous athlete. He’s one of the best players in the SEC and, in my opinion, the best defensive player in the SEC. As I continue to look at what he’s done, he is an All-American — there’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. He’s a special player. I’ve said that all year long and he just continues to play big every opportunity he gets.”

http://www.scout.com/college/missouri/story/1725596-missouri-vanderbilt-...

On if Cunningham has exceeded expectations this season…

“Zach’s a throwback. He’s a guy that doesn’t want a lot of attention, doesn’t need a lot of attention, doesn’t play for the attention. He plays for the love of the game. He loves football. He loves his teammates. He wants to win. I think those things are hard to find nowadays when you talk about building a program and finding the right people. He’s one of those guys. His football I.Q. is high. He makes everyone around him better. To have him on our football team leading the way is what we thought he could do coming into the season and he hasn’t done anything to disappoint.”

On whether Cunningham had done anything like his blocked field goal in practice before…

“He hadn’t done it in practice before. Coach (Osia) Lewis had talked to him about the rules and had mentioned the possibility, but when the opportunity came up and Zach asked and Coach Lewis hinted on the headphones that it may be a good idea. Obviously we went with it. That’s what you do. You have to trust players. In my opinion, if he wouldn’t have blocked it, then I thought Oren Burks would have, just in terms of how high he got. Again, we try to scheme as much as we can but sometimes players just rise above the X’s and O’s and that was just a situation where Zach rose above the X’s and O’s and something great happened and were able to get the ball back.”

On Shurmur’s performance against Auburn and his progress…

“By far I thought it was his best game. He continues to absorb what Andy (Ludwig) is looking to do just in terms of layers and dimensions of the talent that we have on this team. We have to best utilize from week to week the things that give us an advantage. I thought it was great to see our offensive line really keep him upright but to see him deliver the ball — especially when you talk about third downs. I thought he was great in third-down situations. The icing on the cake would have been leading us down and putting the ball in the end zone. But as I grade him right now I think he’s moved from being a C-minus player to really being a B player. We need him to be an A player for this team to win ballgames down the stretch. He’s got to play well, he’s got to take care of the ball and he’s got to continue to show great leadership and he’s moving in that direction.”

On Florida coach Jim McElwain saying the gap between the SEC West and the SEC East has gotten pretty big and whether he agrees…

“Maybe it has. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that. If you look, and we’ve had to play crossover games, you look at the Auburn game, Auburn is one of the best teams on the other side of the conference and that was a one-possession ballgame. We look to compete on this side. I think, from a talent standpoint, we’re all working to get better. If you look at Mark Stoops, his (Kentucky) team is better athletically and they are young. If you look at this team, it’s better and it’s young with a young quarterback. You look at South Carolina. We’re building programs. Those programs have been established on the other side. These programs on this side are building. And a lot of these programs have new coaches or guys that have cycled through players trying to get where they want to be. I think, in terms of his assessment, I’m not trying to paraphrase, but I’m trying to say maybe he’s trying to say with where we are in terms of wins right now and what it looks like overall but as I look at it I just don’t see it that way.” 

You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com.

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