Young Defense Making Strides

Commodore defenders coming off best game of the season

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt’s defense had struggled to find its way throughout much of the season. That all changed Oct. 19 inside Vanderbilt Stadium.

The Commodores held Missouri – ranked in the top 25 at the time – to just 293 yards of total offense and, more importantly, to just 14 points in a seven-point win.

And seven of those Mizzou points came after a Vandy interception gave the Tigers the ball at the 6 going in.

“I got to give credit to those kids,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “I thought they did a good job of lining up, not giving away everything that we were doing pre-snap and being able to get to marks and spots. When it comes down to it, you got to make sure disguises don’t get you off your job, too.”

Part of Vandy’s defensive gameplay against a Missouri offense that had been putting up big numbers to that point was to move defensive coordinator Jason Tarver to the coaches box for a different view of the action. Tarver still called the defensive plays, relaying them to the field for defensive backs coach Marc Mattioli on the sideline.

The Commodores, meanwhile, held Missouri to 3 of 15 on third downs and a 4.4 yards per play average. They also recorded three sacks, eight tackles for loss and a massively important interception (by Allan George) in the end zone.

It all equated to Vanderbilt’s best defensive performance of the year.

“It was good,” Tarver said about moving from the sideline to the coaches box. “As a defensive staff and with coach Mason we all communicate all the time. We have good communication with the coaches and we have good communication with the players and we need to keep that up. So regardless of where I am, it’s about us as a staff being able to help the players make plays and the players making plays. So we need to continue that.”

Growing pains, youth and injuries have been at the crux of Vanderbilt’s inconsistencies through the first six games prior to the Missouri win. Starting cornerback DC Williams and safeties Tae Daley and Frank Coppet have all missed significant time due to injuries leaving a lot of youngsters in the starting lineup.

Vanderbilt’s four top tacklers – linebackers Dimitri Moore and Feleti Afemui and defensive backs Brendon Harris and Dashaun Jerkins – are all sophomores or freshmen.

“The only way to get better at playing football is playing football,” Tarver said. “What happens is when you have very few returning starters in the Southeastern Conference, now you got guys that have played four or five or six games. So they’re not freshmen anymore. They’re not sophomores any more.

“Now they understand, ‘You’ve seen this. You know what to expect.’ Now it’s about us executing our calls. We’ve improved immensely in just executing our calls and then that allows us to run to the ball better and do some things.”

Vanderbilt’s next challenge is a South Carolina, a team on a two-game losing streak with the Southeastern Conference’s ninth-worst total offense and eighth-worst passing offense. The Gamecocks (3-5, 2-4 SEC) have also dealt with injuries at the quarterback and running back positions this season.

The Commodores (2-5, 1-3 SEC) have allowed 34 and 37 points, respectively, in the last two meetings against its East Division foe. They’ll have to hold South Carolina to much less than that to pull out a victory at 6:30 p.m. CT Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.

“This past game we just did our job,” Afemui said. “The coaches called the same plays and it was just on us to execute and we really did a good job of disguising our looks, disguising the pressure and just being able to do our job and trusting the man next to us.

“Throughout the season we build that chemistry together, being able to work and perform the stunts together in practice. Eventually it leads to the success of the group collectively on Saturdays.”