Vanderbilt has played one of the toughest schedules to open the season and lost every game to Georgia, Purdue and LSU. The Commodores play host to Northern Illinois this week in a game that’s quite a step down from the level of those earlier games. But it’s not a time to relax.

“It doesn’t look like wins on paper, but it looks like experience, it looks like opportunity, guys getting a chance to test their football IQ,” coach Derek Mason said at his regular weekly press conference. “If you fall into the mindset of getting comfortable, Northern Illinois will beat your face in.”

Mason added that the front-loaded schedule exposed Vanderbilt to everything it is as a team, and he thought that was fine. Ultimately, it’s about finding your foundation as a program, he said.

“You want to get exposed,” he said. “It’s tough to get exposed and make changes during the middle of the season. That’s not what you want. You want to see what your flaws are, and trying to make sure now, and as you’re moving into it, you truly understand what guys can play. What guys are maybe 15-20 rep guys, versus being 45-rep guys. You really got to solidify how you’re playing, what your rotations look like, getting best players on the field, and making sure, again, defense, offense, special teams suits those players so that you can play really good ball.”

Northern Illinois is 1-2 after it beat Illinois State, but lost to Utah and Nebraska. The game will kick off at 11 a.m. local time on the SEC Network.