NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason seems to have gotten the attention of his Commodores coming off the program's worst loss in 20 years.
Mason spent two weeks focusing on Mississippi State treating the game as a bowl, and his Commodores wound up being thumped 51-0. The Vanderbilt coach could be heard dressing down the Commodores in the locker room, and Mason said Tuesday he was a little more than hot over how they played that game.
"That came through loud and clear to our guys," Mason said. "I called out myself, called out them for what we deemed to be poor play."
Vandy hadn't lost by that big a margin since a 65-0 loss to Tennessee in 1994 in the final season under coach Gerry DiNardo. Mason is the Commodores' fifth coach since that loss, and his first season has been nowhere close to all the wins he talked about being their goal at SEC media day back in July.
The Commodores hit bottom against Mississippi State with three turnovers and trailed 37-0 at halftime. That prompted Mason's biggest outburst of the season.
Senior center Joe Townsend said they've seen the coach like that but not after a game in the locker room.
"That's what we need. I'm glad he did that, and that's the worst I or anyone else has ever gotten beaten," Townsend said. "He was emotional, and he let us know how he felt. This is an emotional game, and you need to wear your emotions on your sleeve, and there is nothing wrong with that. He let us know exactly how he felt."
Mason said they have worked to correct their mistakes and make sure his Commodores play to a "certain standard."
The Commodores (3-8, 0-7 Southeastern Conference) have no time to wallow. In-state rival Tennessee (5-6, 2-5) comes to town Saturday trying to become bowl eligible, and Vanderbilt has a two-game winning streak that is its first in this rivalry since 1925-26.
Those wins came with Vanderbilt winning nine games and going to bowls each of the past two seasons, but this is Mason's first season. Butch Jones is in his second season at Tennessee, and he said he has a lot of respect for what Mason is building. Jones also knows a bit of what Mason is going through.
"Year one is always the most difficult year," Jones said. "I've done it three times, so I know what he's dealing with. They're a very, very talented football team, they're very physical, and they've come up short a few times. But they have our respect because they're physical, and they're going to expect to win."
Mason has talked to players past and present educating himself on this rivalry since this is his first exposure to Tennessee-Vanderbilt. Mason knows the Vols quarterback since he tried to recruit Joshua Dobbs to Stanford when he was defensive coordinator, but the Cardinal didn't have any room for another quarterback.
The Vanderbilt coach has learned there's no love lost between these teams.
"This football team feels like they have something to prove, and I'm sure the team out east feels they have something to prove as they are trying to get bowl eligible," Mason said. "There's a lot at stake and we are going to play the game that way."
Mason's comments spread quickly on social media, evoking memories of past Vanderbilt coaches who either refused to say Tennessee referring to the Vols. That's just fine with his Commodores. Long snapper Andrew East said "ugly orange" when asked to describe Tennessee, and quarterback Johnny McCrary said it's a critical game.
"It's Tennessee and we are Vanderbilt, so this is kind of a big deal in the state of Tennessee," McCrary said.
And quarterback Patton Robinette said Mason yelling at his Commodores gave them a needed wake-up call.
"The season's not over yet," Robinette said. "Obviously, we're not going to be able to go to a bowl game this year, but it's very important for us to keep playing hard and to keep fighting and get some momentum toward next season."
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville contributed to this report.