Five days after Vanderbilt opened its 2014 football season with a surprise 37-7 defeat at the hands of Temple, first-year Commodores coach Derek Mason found somewhat of a silver lining.
"I thought our defense played well," Mason said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. "When you have seven short fields, it could have easily been seven touchdowns."
Fathoming a more nightmarish opening act is difficult after the Commodores lost seven turnovers last Thursday night in Nashville and rapidly succumbed to an Owls team that was coming off a 2-10 season. Vanderbilt was looking to maintain what former coach James Franklin had established in three magical seasons -- a 24-15 record with three bowl appearances and a first-ever sweep last year of Florida, Georgia and Tennessee -- but instead backtracked beyond belief.
Last Thursday was Vanderbilt's worst home loss to a nonconference foe since a solid Syracuse rolled 49-14 in 1990.
"This one opened our eyes to what we need to do," senior outside linebacker Kyle Woestmann said after the game. "This is not who we are."
Vanderbilt's chaotic opener included quarterbacks Patton Robinette, Stephen Rivers and Johnny McCrary combining for three interceptions and no points. There was a lot of confusion regarding jerseys containing "Anchor Down" across the back, which no longer will be allowed, and then there was where to place blame for the fiasco.
"I put it on my shoulders," Mason said afterward. "It was not a good night of executing. We couldn't sustain any drives, and we had too many penalties. Defensively, we let them run 81 plays and gave up too many big-play opportunities. It was a rough night at the office."
Said Woestmann: "Coach Mason said it was on him, but that's not the case at all. It was on the players. They prepared us, and the game plans were good, but we just didn't execute. We're going to have to take a different approach."
Mason has been pleased with how Vanderbilt has responded since the loss, saying Tuesday that the Commodores have followed up with two physical workouts. Vanderbilt will host Ole Miss this Saturday at the Titans' LP Field, which is where the Commodores lost to Tennessee in 2000 and '02 but won Music City bowls over Boston College in 2008 and North Carolina State two years ago.
The quarterback competition has opened up again, and Mason said the players will know later this week who starts but that the selection will not be announced.
Vanderbilt has won three of the past four meetings with Ole Miss and six of the past nine, but the Rebels won a 39-35 thriller last season on Vandy's campus.
"This time last year we gave up 39 to Ole Miss," Woestmann said last Thursday. "We came to work and got better. We watched film and corrected the techniques and came back out and played great defense the rest of the season. That's our plan right now."
Ole Miss opened its season last Thursday as well, struggling for three quarters offensively before pulling away for a 35-13 win over Boise State in Atlanta. The Rebels had stout fan support at LP Field last December, when they topped Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl, and are expected to have the crowd advantage Saturday.
The Rebels beat a competitive, nine-win Vanderbilt last season. Will they face a similar team Saturday, or the one that laid a gargantuan egg last week?
"You can't bring the last game with you to the next one," Commodores junior guard Spencer Puller said Tuesday. "We lost a game, and I think that helped us narrow our focus on the things we did wrong and the things we need to improve. That game is in the past, and we don't have any focus on that game anymore.
"All of our focus is on Ole Miss and our game this week."
Vanderbilt freshman cornerback Tre Herndon from East Hamilton had two tackles and three kickoff returns for 78 yards in his collegiate debut. He had a long return of 38 yards.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.