NASHVILLE, Tenn. — There has been a lot of pats on the back for the Vanderbilt defensive line this week.
“I tell guys win, lose or draw, and it probably kind of sucks some times for them to hear this in the locker room, but we got to go get back to work,” Vanderbilt defensive line coach Jovan Haye said. “You can’t celebrate a win for too long and you can’t hold on to a loss for too long, it’s on to the next. Next-play, next-game, next-day mentality.
“Last week has nothing to do with this week. This week is a new challenge. Who cares what you did last week? No one. I don’t. I move on and get ready for the next week.”
One of the bright spots for the Commodores on Saturday during a 17-12 loss at Texas A&M was the play of Vandy’s defensive tackles and defensive ends. Their effort garnered some recognition from Pro Football Focus which gave the Vanderbilt unit the highest grade (81) among Power 5 Conference teams.
Highest-graded Defensive Lines from Wk 4 (power five):
1. Vanderbilt – 81.0
2. Georgia – 79.9
3. Oklahoma State – 77.2
4. Iowa State – 76.4 pic.twitter.com/eQ1fNGFNHe
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 29, 2020
Vanderbilt recorded a sack, three tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries against the Aggies. Those are modest stats, but nonetheless a good foundational start for the 2020 season.
“We showed a lot of potential, a lot of good things on film,” Vanderbilt defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo said. “Obviously we weren’t great and didn’t come out with the most-important thing, which is a win, but we showed a lot of good things on film which were exciting to see, especially with some young D-line guys that we haven’t been able to see in action coming out and playing for the first time. So it was really good to see them get on the field and be able to perform and perform at a decently high level.
“We set the standard for ourselves, but we’re looking to improve every week off that.”
But the Commodores also have a good mix of youth and first-year student-athletes like Daevion Davis, Raashaan Wilkins, Derek Green and Malik Langham to provide depth. Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said the performance from that group was as good as he’s seen during his time on West End.
“I thought they did a good job in the run of being disruptive in the combo blocks, being able to keep their pad level down, work eyes, hands and feet, keep edges, disengage blocks,” Mason said. “We just looked like a unit up front that played with some strain. When you with strain and a good effort and a great technique, it gives you a chance to be disruptive.”
This season Haye has been joined by linebackers coach Kenechi Udeze who also has a hand in guiding defensive ends and pass rushers in defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s 3-4 base defense. An All-America selection and national championship winner at Southern California, Udeze came to Nashville from LSU – the Commodores’ opponent at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
Udeze praised the willingness of Vanderbilt’s defensive line to continue to learn, to be coached and to strive to improve day-in and day-out. He said that has helped them this week with wanting to go out and prove their opening-season performance wasn’t a fluke.
“We don’t really try to focus on our opponents too much. We really try to work on us,” Udeze said. “If there’s a defense called we run it to execute it to perfection and really just try to get the guys to understand it’s not about our opponents, it’s about us. What we set out to do is become the best and most-improved defense in the entire country. That’s going to be a message that’s resounding throughout the whole defense, not just the defensive line.
“I thought it was a great start (last week), but we left some meat on the bone last week and we want to go get the rest of that meat off this week.”
No. 20 LSU comes to Nashville this weekend having totaled 117 yards on the ground (a 4.3 yards per carry average) from of three running backs during a 44-34 loss to No. 16 Mississippi State. The Tigers’ offensive line also allowed five sacks.
Saturday’s battle in the trenches will certainly be one to watch and another opportunity for the Vanderbilt defensive front to prove its worth.
“I tell the guys, I don’t care about much, I just want to be known as a very physical and hard-playing group. All the other stuff really don’t matter,” Haye said. “If you can take care of those two things then everything else will fall into place.
“For us it’s never good enough. The expectations, the goals we have for these guys are so high that we’re just trying to attack that each day and that’s it. It was encouraging (against Texas A&M) to see the guys actually come out there and play together, play hard and keep on fighting. That’s all I ever want from this group.”
Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com. Follow him @MrChadBishop.