NASHVILLE — Few men ever figured out how to shut down Chip Kelly and Oregon’s fast-paced offense, but that short list includes Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason.
When he was named Stanford’s co-defensive coordinator in 2011, Mason learned what it was like to face Kelly’s Ducks: painful. Oregon whipped Stanford, 53-30, and he went back to the drawing board.
In 2012, as the Cardinal’s sole defensive coordinator, Mason helped guide Stanford to a 17-14 win. One year later, he did it again, helping Stanford to a 26-20 victory. Oregon averaged just 358.5 yards in those contests, well below its 551.19 average between ’12 and ’13.
Now in the SEC, Mason will get a chance to test his hurry-up defense against No. 3 Ole Miss on Saturday.
“This is something that I learned a long time ago,” he told reporters on Tuesday afternoon. “I think about four years ago. And it’s definitely about having a plan.”
Part of that plan involves hiding signals — it’s in Vanderbilt’s best interest to have several play-calling avenues.
“You have to have different ways of signaling so that it changes and varies,” Mason said. “If they want to try and look at the signals, we’re gonna change wristbands every quarter. So good luck trying to figure out exactly what our signals are. So that’s not gonna happen. We’re gonna have different ways to make sure we move it around, so that our guys can get lined up and play fast without us getting skunked.”
Mason had high praise for Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche on Tuesday, but he also gushed over quarterback Chad Kelly, who came up with several big plays against Alabama this past weekend. The coach called Kelly “tough as nails.”
“He didn’t flinch,” Mason said. “That’s important. Hugh Freeze has found himself a really good quarterback. Coach. Quarterback. Those things are sort of tied together. He’s much like his coach. He’s got a lot of confidence in himself. He does a really good job of distributing the football. He stays away from mistakes, and really, he knows his personnel. I see why he’s the starter, and I like what he is. He’s competitive.”
The Commodores and Rebels will kick off at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday night (ESPNU).