NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt has had plenty of success in recent years when it steps out of SEC play. The Commodores hope that trend continues this weekend as they look for some much needed momentum when the first half of the 2019 season comes to a close.
Head coach Derek Mason’s team is 8-3 in its last 11 games against nonconference competition. At 3 p.m. Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium, Vandy has an opportunity to add to that mark when UNLV arrives in town.
“This football team definitely understands where we stand today,” Mason said Tuesday. “Had an opportunity to take our units and watch the (Ole Miss) game together. Offense watched it together, defense watched it together, special teams watched it together.
“I think what it provided was a little more clarity to where we’re at and what’s happening. I think a lot of times when you watch it individually, you can isolate the issues and feel like those issues are things in our room that we need to fix, but football is a team game.”
The Commodores (1-4) are coming off a disheartening 31-6 loss at Mississippi, a defeat in which Vandy trailed just 10-6 at halftime. But two long touchdown runs by Ole Miss in the third quarter changed momentum and fortunes.
Vanderbilt has used the past few days to get back to work and wash out the bad taste of that loss from its mouth. Mason said immediately after that defeat his team and staff needed a better sense of urgency and hinted there could be personnel changes moving forward.
A victory Saturday would help Vanderbilt avoid its first 1-5 start to a season since 2014.
“There’s that picture with the guy, the miner mining, mining and mining and mining and mining and there’s a diamond right there,” Vandy redshirt junior defensive lineman Drew Birchmeier said. “And if you stop there you’re never going to get there. That’s a big thing to keep in mind is to keep grinding, keep pushing, work with what you’re supposed to do every day, but do your job with a fiery passion.
“I think that will be huge for us.”
The Rebels of UNLV (1-4) come to town in their own desperation mode having lost four straight. After winning 56-23 on Aug. 31 against Southern Utah, fourth-year coach Tony Sanchez has watched his team lose to Arkansas State, Northwestern, Wyoming and Boise State, respectively.
UNLV ranks statistically toward the bottom of the country in total defense, sacks, passing efficiency, scoring defense, sacks allowed, rushing defense, red zone defense, passing offense, completion percentage and third down conversions.
Vanderbilt and UNLV have never met before and the Commodores are scheduled to play the Rebels in Las Vegas in 2023.
“They’re a team right now that’s looking find it as well,” Mason said. “They’re trying to find it on offense, defense, as well as special teams. They got good offensive talent. Defensively they’re a veteran group because they’ve built, whether it’s through the junior college ranks and or a couple bounce-backs, they got some veteran guys. They run, they hit, they got good speed on defense and they’re going to get after the quarterback.
“We got to stand up, play well in all three phases and make sure we make it our type of ballgame.”
Saturday’s game will be televised by the SEC Network.
• With a win Saturday, Mason will move into a tie with George MacIntyre for the fifth-most coaching wins in Vandy history.
• The Commodores are 3-3 all-time against programs from the Mountain West Conference.
• Senior running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn needs 103 rushing yards to move into Vanderbilt’s top 10 for career rushing yards.
• Vaughn also needs three rushing touchdowns to move into the top three for career rushing scores at Vandy.
• Vanderbilt senior wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb is 32 yards shorts of passing Chuck Scott (2,219) for the sixth-most receiving yards in a Vanderbilt career.
• Lipscomb needs four receiving touchdowns to past Jordan Matthews (24) for the most in a Vanderbilt career and seven receptions to pass Boo Mitchell for the fourth-most receptions in a Vandy career.
• David Neal, DJ Shockley and Dawn Davenport will be on the SEC Network call for Saturday’s game.
• Two programs part of the Football Bowl Subdivision, Mississippi and UNLV, use Rebels as their nickname and Vanderbilt faces those programs in back-to-back weeks.
• Former NFL star Jared Allen attended Tuesday’s practice on campus.