In 2015, Derek Mason appeared destined to fail at Vanderbilt.
After the Commodores were coming off three straight bowl wins and a 24-15 stretch from 2011-13, Mason took over a program that James Franklin had built up, only to tear it down to a 3-9 team in 2014 that went 0-8 in SEC play.
Even worse, the Dores were shellacked on a weekly basis, losing five games by 24+ points and all but one game by two scores. Their only three wins were over Charleston Southern (1 point), UMass (3 points) and Old Dominion (14 points). Even those wins were by an average of just six points, and the Dores could have easily finished the year 1-11.
Simply put, Vanderbilt had become not only an SEC bottom-feeder, but one of the worst teams in college football. It seemed Mason had lost his program and was heading for an eventual firing, but he wasn’t about to go down without a fight.
The former Stanford Cardinal defensive coordinator decided in the 2015 offseason that he was going to call Vandy’s defense going forward, and it paid off in a big way.
While the Dores were still a mess offensively, their defense became one of the nation’s best last year. They finished 4-8, but went 2-6 in SEC play with last-minute losses at Florida (SEC East champs) and at home to WKU (12-2 and C-USA champs, who Vandy held to a season-low 14 points).
The Dores were far more competitive, and had they found some semblance of an offense, probably win 6+ games. They went from ranking 106th in scoring defense in 2014 to 22nd in 2015. They also improved from 70th in total defense to 28th last year.
Why am I telling you all of this?
On Thursday, Mark Stoops all but confirmed he’s calling the defense now for the Kentucky Wildcats.
After practice, Stoops told the media, “We did some different things this week that I already addressed, but on the game day itself, nothing different, with the exception of I will be more active with play-calling.”
If Derek Mason’s path is any indicator, Stoops calling the defense could be a game-changer. Given, Mason’s inability to build an offense has led to him struggling to produce more wins since taking over the defensive play-calling, but there is no question it made a world of difference with how competitive Vandy has been since.
At this point, being ‘competitive’ would also be a massive upgrade at UK. Let’s hope Stoops has finally seen that and is taking over a unit that’s been among college football’s worst ever since he let D.J. Eliot take it over.