Vanderbilt lost its home opener to Western Kentucky 14-12 Thursday evening in Nashville and, while It was not the high scoring affair that many (including yours truly) predicted, that might be a good thing for Vanderbilt. The Commodores scored late and had an opportunity to tie the game, but the two point conversion came up short and allowed the Hilltoppers to head back up Interstate 65 with the win.
1 The revamped Commodores defense showed up tonight with head coach Derek Mason taking over as his own defensive coordinator. The defensive front offered multiple looks and gave the Hilltoppers' offensive line issues. Brandon Doughty led the country in yards last year, but was held in check tonight to the tune of 209 yards by Vanderbilt while being held to 6.9 yards per attempt (after averaging nearly 9 ypa last season). But it was not just the passing defense that stepped up for Vanderbilt; the rush defense only gave up 38 yards on 22 attempts. While the sample size is obviously small, if tonight is a harbinger of the 2015 Vanderbilt defense, they should help keep the team in most of their games.
2 Throughout fall camp, Mason did not name a starting quarterback and release the depth chart earlier this week with Johnny McCrary and Wade Freebeck listed as "OR" for the starting berth. If the competition was indeed that close throughout fall camp, it did not show during the game tonight as McCrary started and played throughout after starting the last several games of 2014. And McCrary had moments that appeared he, along with new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and running back Ralph Webb, could spark a serviceable offense. Vanderbilt got into Western Kentucky territory nine times and got into the red zone five times. Those five red zone drives, however, ended with only nine points as two of the drives ended with interceptions in the end zone and another ended with a missed field goal.
3 A loss to start off the season is never a great start, but if the red zone problems are fixed, this becomes a comfortable Vanderbilt win. That is more than can be said for most of last year and that might be the top end of the potential for Vanderbilt: still being young, being more competitive than last year and putting a scare into several teams on the schedule. If Mason and co. can do that and possibly earn an upset or two, he should get a third year to build his program. But considering I am talking about the hot seat after week one, the failure to pull any upsets or keep SEC games competitive could cause an uncomfortable season for a team that would then struggle to stay motivated.