SEC PROFILE: Vanderbilt optimistic about future

Published 8:54 pm Monday, July 24, 2017

By Keith Taylor

Kentucky Today

Editor’s note: This is the seventh of an eight-part series taking a look at Kentucky’s eight Southeastern Conference opponents this season.

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If you ask Derek Mason, the future is bright at Vanderbilt and the third-year coach has every reason to be optimistic.

The Commodores appeared poised for a losing campaign during the final two weeks regular-season before surprising wins over Ole Miss and Tennessee propelled Vandy into the postseason for the first time in Mason’s tenure. The Commodores ended with. 41-17 loss to North Carolina State in the Independence Bowl, but Mason isn’t concerned with the loss.

During the late surge, the Commodores scored 83 points in the final two games and defeated the Volunteers for the third time in the past five years. On defense, Vandy returns seven starters from last year’s squad.

“Vanderbilt football is on the rise,” Mason said. “As I look at our program and where we’re at and what we’ve done, I thought in 2016, we took several steps forward to be a better program. You looked at how we finished the season, 4-2, got us to a Bowl game for the first time in my tenure. And that was an exciting time for us. (We’re) definitely not satisfied.”

Mason returns several key components from last year, including quarterback Kyle Shurmur and bruising running back Ralph Webb, one of the top rushers in the league. Webb rushed for a school record 1.283 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago and could possibly end his career as the league’s second all-time leading rusher behind former Georgia great Herschel Walker.