NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After all the ups and downs from the 2019 campaign, Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason is hoping to see his team play its best game of the season Saturday.
It will need to against an arch-rival that’s red-hot going into the regular-season finale.
“Coming off the win (over East Tennessee State) I think these guys have confidence in terms of where we’re at, where we got to go,” Mason said Tuesday. “We just got to continue to push ourselves to get the most out of these opportunities to practice and being with one another and making sure that we continue to flow and just get after one another.
“I asked these guys to be greedy and that’s exactly what we want to be. We want to grab these reps, make sure that we push each other to play good football and that’s what we’re moving toward on Saturday.”
Vandy plays at 3 p.m. CT Saturday against Tennessee (6-5, 4-3 SEC) in a long-standing rivalry that dates back to 1892. The Commodores have won three straight – but that matters little in a matchup of two programs separated by 180 miles.
Tennessee had won six in a row before Vanderbilt’s 41-18 win in 2012. The Dores have claimed five of the last seven.
“Me not being from the state of Tennessee, I guess I was adopted into the rivalry. Now that I know about it, it’s a big thing,” Vanderbilt senior wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb said. “We cherish and we look forward to the opportunity because we know they’re going to bring their best stuff. And we know that’s an opportunity for us to bring our best stuff as well.
“To get the win it would be a cherry on top of what I look at as a good personal career.”
Vanderbilt has a chance to not only win a fourth in a row over Tennessee, but to go into the offseason on a two-game winning streak after a season that didn’t go as anyone had hoped. And they’ll have some confidence going into Saturday after a 38-0 win over ETSU last time out.
A three-game losing streak predicated that victory and took Mason’s program out of bowl contention. The Commodores were in a similar situation in 2017 when they went to Tennessee and won 42-24.
“It speaks to, hopefully, for the ability for this football team to focus on the now, to be able to sort of grab what’s available to this team,” Mason said. “I’ve said before, the way you end a chapter a lot of times is the way you start the next. That’s not always true, but that’s something that you want to be able to speak to with these guys.
“For us, we’ve just tried to stay in the middle. That’s what we talk about, that’s what we’re going to do. We look to play our best ballgame on Saturday. We played a couple of solid ballgames, but we got to play our best ballgame on Saturday. That’s the one we have, that’s the one we end on.”
Vanderbilt’s senior class could become the first in nearly a century to beat Tennessee in every one of its seasons. For guys like Lipscomb that would certainly be the best way to end their Commodore careers.
But they know it won’t happen without a fight – just like it has been the past three seasons.
“I think teams usually progress to their best ball at this time of the year,” Lipscomb said. “I also think it’s also just playing at Tennessee – it’s kind of electric. It’s surreal. You go in there and you’re head’s kind of buzzing, but once the first play is done it’s like, ‘OK, let’s play ball.’ And you got guys across from you that want to beat your face in. You have to counter with the same intensity. The enthusiasm around it is high.”