Vanderbilt needs strong finish at home for bowl eligibility

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Vanderbilt Commodores need two victories in their final two games to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2013. With both games at home, they know exactly what they can’t do.

Start slowly.

The Commodores fell behind 19-0 last week at Missouri and wound up losing 26-17. That dropped Vanderbilt to 4-6 overall and 1-5 in the Southeastern Conference, and coach Derek Mason said Tuesday he believes his team got a great reminder that they aren’t built to spot opponents a lead.

“We have to play with a better sense of urgency in these ballgames,” Mason said. “Every ballgame that we’ve played in has come down to a possession or two. When you have ballgames that are that tight you have to make sure that the football is good and you’re executing well that you look to finish.”

The Commodores have been so close with each of their SEC losses with the game at Missouri coming by their largest margin. They answered with 17 points as Kyle Shurmur threw for 252 yards, his second-best performance this season. But Shurmur also was intercepted twice, and it just wasn’t enough.

Vanderbilt’s APR is so good that the Commodores could be a possible bowl pick if they could reach five victories. Bowl eligibility isn’t a topic Mason is addressing with his Commodores, focusing instead on just trying to win Saturday night when they host Mississippi (5-5, 2-4). Vanderbilt wraps up the regular season Nov. 26 hosting in-state rival Tennessee.

Even splitting these final games would put Mason his best record yet at Vandy. Mason isn’t changing his approach.

“We’ve got to stay in the here and now,” Mason said. “For these guys, social media’s out there. They know what’s at stake. I just try to talk about the mundane thing of doing the every day things that it takes to win. So that’s putting good work on top of good work stacking good practices on top of good practices and getting ready to play a good Ole Miss football team.”

Ole Miss is coming off a big 29-28 upset at then-No. 8 Texas A&M in freshman quarterback Shea Patterson’s debut. The Rebels have scored first in nine of their 10 games, and Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has not lost to Mason each of the past two seasons.

But the Rebels only won 27-16 at Oxford last season, and Freeze has seen enough of Mason to respect the coach in beating Vandy each of the past two seasons.

“He’s given us problems every year,” Freeze said of Mason. “He’s very good. He’s a very good defensive coach, and his kids play fundamentally extremely well. They play in the right spots. They’re fundamentally sound. So, you’ve got to be careful against them not to get one play behind in the calls. Every call you have, we need to have answers for what we do.”

The one answer Vanderbilt defensive lineman Adam Butler is sure of is that the Commodores have no excuse not to be ready for kickoff.

“That can’t happen these next two games,” Butler said. “These next two games we have to be ready and make sure we’re ready and come out with that good start.”