ESPN Previews the Commodores

We may be about to hit the sporting slow season of summer, but ESPN has pages to fill it. With that in mind the media giant has been doing a preview of the teams in the SEC as part of its College Football Nation blog. Recently it was the Commodores turn to be examined and, as always, the results make for some interesting reading.

With ESPN essentially writing the narrative for the college football season each year it is interesting to look into their early season articles and see which storylines they are going to be pushing in 2015. In the very first paragraph of this write of the World Wide Leader notes the following about Derek Mason, “by cleaning house and installing himself as DC, his reputation and his job are on the line.”

This isn’t saying much that Vandy fans don’t know, but for the casual sports viewer it is a very interesting tone. We know that Mason made exceptional progress with the defense last fall when he decided to take it over with a few games left in the season, but can that progress continue? One of the interesting aspects of this season is what will happen if the defense is top 25 caliber, but the offense is so bad that the ‘Dores get routed on a weekly basis anyway.

On offense the article cites Ralph Webb as the player to watch, but points out that he can only be effective Vanderbilt can find some sort of quarterback play. New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig talks up Webb referring to him as a “workhorse” while pointing out he is “good carrying the ball out of the backfield, a good pass receiver out of the backfield.”

While Ludwig is preaching balance to anyone who will listen it is obvious that he sees Webb as the key to the offense. The pass catching comment is interesting because for Vandy to keep the heat off of an inexperience quarterback, no matter who that ends up being, the swing pass and screen game is going to be hugely important this fall. If the defenses in the SEC can pin their ears back and attack the line then the Commodores will be in trouble.

On defense the offseason focus has been in two areas; simplifying schemes and heavy doses of the weight room. “We’re in a conference where linemen are big and guys are physical,” Mason says. “It’s a little different than the West Coast because these guys are much thicker.”

This quote is interesting because it suggests that Mason thought the Vandy team was not prepared physically for his first season in charge. On the West Coast you can win games more cerebrally, while in the SEC it is often about power and physicality. If Mason is able to adjust these issues then his pedigree would suggest he has the ability to make the Vanderbilt defense a very hard unit to score against.

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