Vandy takes last break from SEC slate, hosts Tennessee State
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Vanderbilt Commodores have one last chance to fine-tune themselves before diving back into the meat of their Southeastern Conference schedule.
On a two-game skid, the Commodores need to fix a few things Saturday against Tennessee State because a trip to No. 2 Georgia awaits.
“It comes back to the simple things,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “We talk about it: effort, attitude, execution affect outcome, and that’s what it comes down to. We need to execute better. I think the attitude and the effort have been solid, but everything can be better. When you do things better, you start to create your own luck.”
Vanderbilt (2-2) has lost two straight and is coming off a 34-17 loss to South Carolina . The Commodores went on a five-game skid a year ago after losing to Alabama, and playing Tennessee State (2-0) of the Football Championship Subdivision is an opportunity to fix a few things before playing four of the next five games on the SEC road.
Mason said he doesn’t think his Commodores came out of the loss to South Carolina feeling beaten. He saw South Carolina looking faster than Vanderbilt.
“That comes back to us just needing to get started faster, play faster,” Mason said.
Tennessee State coach Rod Reed is just happy to be playing games in consecutive weeks with weather limiting his Tigers (2-0) to just two games so far this season. The Southern Heritage Classic with Jackson State was canceled after a four-hour lightning delay, and the Tigers’ next game against at Hampton canceled because of Hurricane Florence.
They shook off a slow start in which the Tigers trailed by 21 before edging Eastern Illinois 41-40. This is a big game for Tennessee State from the Ohio Valley Conference whose campus just three miles away from Vanderbilt, and the Tigers are 3-3 against FBS programs.
“It’s a big game make no bones about it,” Reed said. “But again at the end of the day it’s an opportunity for our kids to go play in an SEC environment and compete at a high level, and then we’ll let the chips fall where they may.”
Some other things to know when Tennessee State visits Vanderbilt:
The Commodores have struggled to start games quickly this season and are being outscored 27-7 in the first quarter so far. Vanderbilt is outscoring opponents in each of the other three quarters, and the defense has allowed only 23 points after halftime this season.
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Kalija Lipscomb not only has been Kyle Shurmur’s favorite target, the wide receiver also leads the SEC with 34 catches through four games. Lipscomb has had at least nine catches in Vanderbilt’s last three games, the first Commodores receiver since Jordan Matthews in 2013. He is tied for second in the SEC with four touchdown catches and is fifth in the league with 306 yards receiving.
Vanderbilt freshman Cam Johnson, who had two catches for 19 yards, will miss the rest of the season after hurting his leg in the loss to South Carolina. Sophomore Chris Pierce is slated to start against Tennessee State.
The Commodores snapped an eight-game winning streak Sept. 15 with a 22-17 loss at Notre Dame. They are 2-0 all-time against Tennessee State, outscoring the FCS program 73-26 including a 35-17 victory in 2016 when these teams last met. Vanderbilt is 27-7 when playing non-SEC teams since the start of the 2011 season. Vanderbilt also has won six straight against schools from Tennessee.
“This is a real big game. We play an SEC team, so we just have to play our football and continue to just make plays on our side of the ball,” Tennessee State safety Vincent Sellers.
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