Vanderbilt, Mason eager for chance against No. 1 Alabama
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vanderbilt is ready for its showdown with top-ranked Alabama , the moment that Commodores coach Derek Mason has been working toward since arriving on campus.
“We relish the opportunity ...,” Mason said. “We’re going to play good teams in this conference, but we don’t fear anybody in this conference. That’s what you sign up for when you come to the SEC. Nobody wants to be the doormat of the SEC. If that’s the case, then you have to be about the work to build a solid foundation to be able to compete.”
Vanderbilt was the league’s cellar dweller with splashes of success. Coach Bobby Johnson, then James Franklin — now at Penn State — took the Commodores to bowl games, had winning records and a few upsets of ranked teams.
Now the Commodores (3-0) find themselves one of the SEC’s five remaining undefeated teams, including Alabama (3-0), in Mason’s fourth season — fresh off upsetting then-No. 18 Kansas State 14-7. Vanderbilt has won seven of its last 10 games and upset the last two Top 25 teams it has played.
Mix that with a defense that’s the nation’s stingiest in points, yards and against the pass, it’s a combination Alabama coach Nick Saban appreciates. Saban also thinks the Commodores deserve to be ranked going into the SEC opener for both teams Saturday afternoon.
“He’s got a really good team,” Saban said of Mason. “They play well. They’re really well-coached. They play hard, physical, tough. They’ve got very good schemes on offense and defense and special teams, so when you watch the film you see a really good team that’s really well coached, and I think Derek deserves a lot of credit for that.”
Alabama, which hasn’t lost in Nashville to Vanderbilt since 1969, is focused on tuning up after a 41-23 win over Colorado State where Saban put his first-team offense back on the field to finish off the win.
Here are some things to know about this SEC opener:
BEATING THE EAST: Among the streaks Alabama carries into Nashville is an 18-game winning stretch against SEC East teams. The last loss was 35-21 at then-No. 19 South Carolina on Oct. 9, 2010. The Tide has only played Vandy once during that stretch, however, and that 34-0 shutout in 2011 came in the first season of Franklin’s tenure.
VANDY’S SKID: This will be the eighth game all-time for Vanderbilt against the top-ranked team, and the Commodores are 0-7 in such games. This is their first chance at No. 1 since losing to Florida in 2009 and first on campus since losing to eventual national champion Tennessee in 1998. Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur says Alabama has earned their ranking and the Commodores’ respect.
“But we’re not going to back down,” Shurmur said. “We work hard too. We’re going to go out, and we’re going to compete.”
BAMA DEFENSE: Alabama linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton had said after a so-so defensive performance against Colorado State the defenders needed a “come to Jesus meeting.” Apparently, it wasn’t deemed necessary after all.
“I don’t think words are going to really do anything right now, but actions are going to do a whole lot more,” safety Minkah Fitzpatrick said. “So, all I did (Monday), I tried to fly around, make all the calls and stuff like that. Shaun Dion was doing the same thing, just leading by example. And pretty much everybody followed, everybody did what they were supposed to do.”
EXOTIC FRONTS: Don’t be surprised to see the Commodores line up on defense with some unique looks. Mason, who calls his own defense, says it’s a way to catch quarterbacks getting play calls from the sideline off guard. Vanderbilt has taken advantage with five interceptions, tied with Alabama for ninth nationally.
HURTS SO GOOD: Vandy will have to be on the lookout for the running ability of Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts. Hurts is the SEC’s fourth-leading rusher and easily leads the team with 312 yards — more than LSU tailback Derrius Guice and Georgia’s Nick Chubb. In the past two games, he has run 21 times or 257 yards and three touchdowns.
AP Sports Writer John Zenor contributed to this report.
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