Vanderbilt head football coach Derek Mason didn’t seem overly alarmed by the passing yards LSU’s defense yielded in last Saturday’s 44-34 home loss to Mississippi State.
The Tigers, who were minus All-American cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., permitted a record-setting performance from State’s quarterback K.J. Costello who passed for a Southeastern Conference record 623 yards and five touchdowns against a depth-thin secondary.
The season-opening game also marked the first game of Bo Pelini’s second tour of duty as LSU’s defensive coordinator, replacing Dave Aranda who became the head coach at Baylor University after the Tigers won the CFP national championship.
The arrival of Pelini also translated into a different defensive philosophy and scheme where LSU transitioned from the 3-4 under to a more aggressive, attack-style 4-3 under Pelini which registered five sacks of Costello and forced four turnovers.
“Both of those gentlemen have been head coaches,” Vanderbilt head football coach Derek Mason said on Wednesday’s SEC Coaches Teleconference. “They’re strong defensive minds … probably two of the best in the country. It’s about adapting to new coaching styles and figuring out players and what you have.
“A year ago, LSU was a much different football team in terms of mentality and what they had in experience. When you get talent and experience, especially guys still being in the same system, it’s going to look a little different. College football’s a junior, senior sport.
“This year under Bo Pelini, who’s one of the best defensive minds in the country, they’re just adjusting. It’s just game one. I’m not too over the top about what game one means. There’s just a lot of room for growth. Coach Pelini knows how to get a defense ready to play and he’s going to have his guys ready to play. They were without (Derek) Stingley who’s one of the corners in the country. When you’re missing a key piece like that it affects a lot of thing. A guy like him allows you to get the pass rush hot when you can take away sides of the field. When they get that back, whether it’s this week or whenever, what you get is a dominant player with an experienced coordinator who utilizes his talents to help get the pieces around him to play well.”
Here’s what else Mason had to say Wednesday:
On his team’s 17-12 opening loss at Texas A&M and getting ready to host LSU
“It’s LSU week and this football team’s coming off a hard-fought loss to Texas A&M and we’re back in the lab. This football team has to continue to focus on the details, we have to conquer the details. We have to be a team that’s accountable for snaps and what we do and we’re moving towards that. We have a young quarterback that’s growing up. Offensively I was pleased to see some growth in terms of being able to control the clock, be disruptive on defense and play solid in special teams. We’re going to need more effort and better execution this week as we host LSU. LSU’s a good football team regardless of what transpired last week. We all know from week one to week two adjustments are made and out football team has to make necessary adjustments to handle who they are and what they do. We look forward to the challenge. It’s a great opportunity to be at home in our stadium. We’re excited to get back on the grass Saturday.”
On the lowly expectations from the outside about your team compared the competitive game you had with Texas A&M
“The outside expectations don’t drive us. That’s not football. That’s speculation. People don’t have a chance to see you and that’s OK. We’re a blue-collar group. We’re not the ideal pick. We’re not the Maserati, we’re the Ford truck and we’re rolling down the road in what we’re trying to do is just make we play good football. You need good players to do that and I think we’ve good players in our program. We face good players every weekend and the biggest thing for us is to stay focused on the details of what it takes to play good football on Saturday. We’ve got to be better in situational football, we’ve got to understand that we’ve got to protect the football, we’ve got to take it away. We’ve got to play well on special teams and that’s our formula. We’re going to stay in our lane and we’re going to go as fast as we can to get to where we’re trying to go. Luckily, there’s work between now and Saturday to get ourselves ready to play a good LSU football team.”
On whether there’s still a gap between teams in the league
“It depends on the year and what you have on your roster. This year being a COVID year it’s a little different. Everybody started on the same clock. Everybody’s facing the same challenges in the ability to maneuver and keep your team focused. Week to week is going to paramount in anybody’s success. The idea is to make sure we can conquer the details, control our controllables and just continue to play hard-nosed football and its got to be complementary in all three phases. For us we understand what our blueprint looks like and we’ve got to play our style of football.”
On the performance of his newcomers
“They got live bullets, live action and that’s good for those guys. I didn’t think the game was too big for them. When they had to settle into the speed of the game, it was nice to play that game on the road to really give them information about places they’re going to play and what it’s going to look like. Those guys stayed within the confines of what we did and didn’t get outside of themselves. We made some errors and with that these guys responded by staying in the pocket which is really what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to stay focused. Every play’s an opportunity to get better and you don’t want to make the same mistake twice. You’re really working hard from play to play to make sure you get yourself lined up and execute in all three phases. I was pleased to see guys like Donovan Kaufman, Chase Lloyd and Ken Seals who stepped up and made their debut. They didn’t get lost. I appreciate their efforts in terms of preparations and what we’ve got to do. You have to continue pushing the envelope when there’s opportunity to get better.”
On why spread offenses seem to be so formidable and why haven’t more teams tried it earlier
“This is about the evolution of the game. Spread football has become a great equalizer in terms of the ability to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands fast, find ways to give long handoffs on fly sweeps, space you out and utilize 53 1/3 (field’s width). Ten years ago, football was played in a phone booth. Now it’s back to basketball on grass where everybody’s spreading out and you find yourself playing box-in-one defense and match coverages. It’s about the best matchups. Offense is always going to evolve. Defense is also working to play catch-up in this fast-paced world where everybody wants to see points scored. The advantage goes to the offense and the defense has to hone in on tendencies and matchups to make sure we can minimize what they’re trying to do in terms of all the spread one on ones.”
On whether there was a rule change that opened the door for the spread offense
“Linemen down the field. The idea of being able to marry the run with the pass and the RPO game and how that’s been able to pull second-level defenders closer to the line of scrimmage. And being able to find windows behind those second-level defenders is really key. I think that rule change allowing linemen three days down the field, you can simulate hard run action and be able to create windows between level two and level three defenders.”