|Vandy chatter sets stage for visit from No. 1 Alabama|
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Back at SEC Media Days in July, Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said he and his team would be ready when Alabama came to town.
Mason made it clear that he respected Alabama coach Nick Saban and what he's built in Tuscaloosa. He praised Saban for "the way he handles himself" and "the way he coaches his football team."
But Mason wanted everyone to know that he wouldn't be afraid.
"But here's what I tell you. I don't fear anybody, and our team as well," Mason said in the summer. "So when we line up to play Alabama, we got to line up to play Alabama. ... When we face Alabama, we're going to be ready to play."
Now, Mason and the Commodores (3-0) must do more than talk. They have to show no fear when No. 1 Alabama (3-0) travels to Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET.
This is Alabama's first trip to Vanderbilt since 2007, and the first meeting between the teams since 2011.
While the coaches have never faced each other, Saban can see the growth Vanderbilt has made during Mason's tenure.
"They do a great job of executing on both sides of the ball," Saban said.
"I think the results that they've gotten so far this season certainly bear that out. The quarterback's a really good player and he's very efficient in what he does with the offense, run and pass. They make some explosive plays. They run the ball effectively. They're physical. Same way on defense.
"There's no question about the buy-in to the program and the job that he's (Mason) done there."
Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur has completed 49 of 69 passes for 703 yards, with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. He leads the SEC and is sixth nationally in passing efficiency (194.9 rating).
The Commodores are riding high off a 14-7 upset over then-No. 18 Kansas State on Saturday.
Vanderbilt fields a stifling defense powered by Mason's play-calling. Vanderbilt leads the SEC in scoring defense (4.3 points per game), passing defense (95.3 yards per game) and total defense (198.3 yards per game). The Commodores allow only 3.44 yards per play.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts has struggled with his accuracy in the past, but this season he has thrown four touchdowns with no interceptions in 53 attempts, which have gone for 472 yards. He has rushed for 100 yards in each of the past two games and accounted for seven touchdowns this season, with no turnovers.
Vanderbilt safety LaDarius Wiley is one of the key players on the defense. He earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors against Kansas State after he contributed 11 tackles, intercepted a pass and knocked down two other pass attempts.
Vanderbilt's front seven lines up in a lot of odd fronts to give opposing offenses different looks.
"Most of the stuff that they do that is exotic is on loose play downs," Saban said.
"But I think what they're trying to do is create issues in the offensive line. All offensive linemen want to know who the four down linemen and the Mike (linebacker) are; that's who we have to block. When they're doing these kinds of things, it makes it much more difficult for them to ID the front and know who to block.
"So it's creating confusion to some degree but also they do a good job from a schematic standpoint of being able to attack you out of those things and get pressure and they've got some really good players to do it."
On the other side, Alabama is coming off a 41-23 win over Colorado State in which it surrendered 391 yards of offense. Colorado State also converted 10 of 17 third-down attempts. While Saban didn't like the way the team finished, he doesn't want anyone to panic about Alabama's defensive struggles.
It will help if linebackers Rashaan Evans (groin), Anfernee Jennings (ankle) are Dylan Moses are able to play this week after missing game time. They each returned to practice, even if in a limited basis, early in the week.
"I think sometimes you lose sight of the fact that we are 3-0," Saban said. "We have improved in a lot of areas of our team and will continue to focus on the technical aspects of what we need to do to improve in some other areas."