NASHVILLE, Tennessee — The Vanderbilt Commodores have had a chance to catch their breath during their first open date of the season, and now they hope they are in better shape to finish strong.
Coach Derek Mason said Tuesday coaches spent last week self-scouting and made some changes to fit personnel and schemes together better. That all should combine for people to see a better football team when the Commodores visit Missouri (5-2, 2-1) on Saturday.
"That's what we look to be, a better football team," Mason said. "So I don't want to get into the specifics because we've done some great things in terms of game planning to get ourselves ready to go play this game. What you'll see is hopefully a better offense, a more productive and active defense."
Well, the Commodores need improvement across the board.
They needed the open date after squeaking out a 21-20 win over Charleston Southern, barely avoiding a loss Oct. 11 when they were outgained in total offense by the Football Championship Subdivision program. Johnny McCrary came off the bench in that game and threw 169 yards and a touchdown. Mason says McCrary also is likely to start Saturday.
That would be McCrary's first career start and make the redshirt freshman the fourth different quarterback to start this season with Wade Freebeck recovering from an injured finger. Patton Robinette, who Mason says remains the Commodores' leader, still is recovering from a concussion suffered Sept. 20 and has yet to be cleared by doctors.
McCrary is considered a dual threat quarterback, and he had a rough outing coming off the bench in the opening loss to Temple. McCrary was intercepted twice on three passes, and he sat out five straight games before playing against Charleston Southern.
Mason said McCrary has to grow into the position, but he made it clear he whoever is playing quarterback to execute the offense the coaches are calling.
"We've got to stick with who we are and our formula," Mason said. "It's not about Johnny McCrary. It's not about Wade Freebeck. It's about this football team and what we can do to get it done."
Vanderbilt currently is last or next to last in several offensive categories in the SEC, including total offense (270.4 yards per game), scoring (17.6 points per game) and passing offense (159.9 yards per game). That also puts the Commodores near the bottom of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
They also are last in the SEC in scoring defense, giving up 34 points a game.
Mason said coaches have pared down the offensive scheme to plays that fit the players better.
"We don't need 100 plays, we need 25 good plays," Mason said. "If those 25 plays give us a chance to get in the end zone, we'll go back to those 25 plays."
Senior outside linebacker Kyle Woestmann said the shift to a 3-4 defense proved tougher than expected. Some players have shifted positions, making the learning curve even more challenging. But he sees teammates now understanding much more of what they're being asked to do plus some changes planned to improve the pass rush.
"We have a lot of very talented guys up front and I think we are going to try and implement stuff to get a little more of a pass rush out on the field," Woestmann said. "I think it is going to be a great opportunity to showcase the young guys out on the field and their abilities to really get off the ball and move."
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