Vanderbilt's secondary could be a strength this fall
It may feel like a decade for Commodores fans, but Vanderbilt is only two years removed from consecutive bowl wins and back-to-back nine-win seasons under James Franklin, a coach who turned around a program lying dormant in the SEC for many seasons.
Vanderbilt’s offense was serviceable at the time with all-time leading wideout Jordan Matthews, but it was the Commodores’ defense — notably the secondary — that kept the team within striking distance in the fourth quarter.
Under Franklin, Vanderbilt finished 7th, 3rd, and 6th in the SEC against the pass during the 2011, 2012, 2013 seasons, accumulating 48 interceptions over the period — the most-ever at the school during a three-year stretch.
Returning to respectability is Derek Mason’s idea of a good time this fall or his stint in Nashville could be over by January. That starts with defense where nine starters are back and Mason has taken over play-calling duties.
Considering what Mason was able to do at Stanford when his only focus was defense, you’d expect the commodores to have a better showing as a unit this fall.
There’s a wealth of talent at linebacker, but where Vanderbilt could really flourish is at the back end, headlined by Torren McGaster, Taurean Ferguson and Darreon Herring.
Mason’s hire of safeties coach Marc Mattioli was a crucial acquisition just days before spring drills began and has been a great fit thus far. He worked under Mason as a graduate assistant at Stanford and knows what the Commodores’ head coach is looking for from his secondary — an attacking group focused on generating turnovers.
“Marc is one of the bright young defensive minds in college football today,” Mason said at the time of Mattioli’s hiring. “I was very impressed during our time together at Stanford. Marc also has great command of our defense and truly understands my expectations for how the Vanderbilt defense should perform.”
The secondary does lose the speedy Darrius Sims, who returned an interception for a touchdown against Kentucky and two kickoffs for scores against South Carolina. He moved to running back during the spring practice per OC Andy Ludwig’s request for an additional playmaker alongside Ralph Webb.
Vanderbilt’s defense shined during the spring game two weeks ago, recording seven sacks — three by nickelback Emmanuel Smith — and five interceptions. Webb scored the offense’s only touchdown, but was held to 11 yards on eight attempts.
Ferguson had two of his team’s picks.
“I thought our guys did a good job today, defensively, within the framework of what we asked them to do,” Mason said after his defense’s 38-24 point-system win.