At the halfway point of the 2019 season, Vanderbilt has slumped to a 1-5 record – its worst start since 2014.
The Commodores, coming off a 34-10 defeat at home against UNLV, go into this week still looking for ways to put a 60-minute football game together after showing flashes of brilliance in every area at times through six games – but rarely all at once in the same contest.
Despite those struggles, Vandy head coach Derek Mason said his team won’t be giving up on the second half of the campaign any time soon.
“You look right now and I know most of you want to ask where do we go? You look at this football and this team is fighting,” he said after Saturday’s loss. “We’re trying to catch a break, trying to create some things for ourselves, trying to do what we can to keep this group from being frustrated and trying to create some momentum. Some of what you see in ballgames speaks to that.”
On Saturday, the Commodores looked poised for that breakthrough they had been waiting and working for through the season’s first five games. They took the opening kickoff and marched straight down the field to the tune of eight plays covering 76 yards. Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s 4-yard touchdown run made it 7-0 less than three minutes into the game.
But after that? 10 drives totaling 230 yards and just three points.
The visiting Rebels (2-4) scored on all four of their first four series to take a 24-10 lead at the break. Running backs Chad Magyar and Charles Williams finished day by combining for 185 yards on 46 attempts (4.02 yards per carry) for UNLV.
Those numbers were a big reason Vandy suffered the season’s fifth loss.
“I told these guys in there, ‘Hey, the voices are going to get loud. The thing we got to do is stick together.’ And they get it,” Mason said. “They understand where we’re at right now. We’re a 1-5 football team and that’s not where we want to be. This football team has got games left to play and we just got to continue to keep working.
“It’s not going to get better just because we want it to. It’s got to get better because we will it to.”
Vanderbilt is still technically eligible to make the postseason for a third time in four years. It would have to go on a serious tear, of course, by winning five of its final six games. But Mason has rallied the troops late in the season in years past.
The Dores next host No. 22 Missouri (5-1, 2-0 SEC) – a team on a five-game winning streak – at 3 p.m. Saturday before ending the month with an idle week.
“I think you look at it from a bigger perspective,” Vanderbilt senior wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley said. “You only have a few college games left relative to your whole life. So every game is a unique opportunity to come out and play. Practice is a unique opportunity.
“Being in the locker room is something that you’ll be able to cherish for the rest of your life. So looking at it that way, you can’t take anything for granted. So that’s how you approach that.”
Missouri heads to Nashville with all sorts of momentum after beating Mississippi 38-27 on Saturday. The Tigers began the year with a disheartening 37-31 setback at Wyoming – but haven’t lost since.
Vandy will be trying to break a three-game skid against Mizzou dating back to 2016 and is looking to avoid a 1-6 record for the first time since 2003. And it plans to come out fighting in order to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a sense of panic. We have, what, six more games left? That’s six college football games left for, some of us, for our whole career,” Shelton-Mosley said. “Six football games. And we do have a lot of young guys. We still can’t take it for granted. I don’t think there’s a sense of panic, more of opportunity to get better. Most of our aspirations are to get into the (National Football) League. So it’s a big opportunity to get better.”