Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason and Texas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk go way back — all the way back to Mason’s days as a defensive coordinator at Stanford.
“I’ve known Christian Kirk for a long time,” Mason said. “He’s been dynamic for a long time.”
Mason recruited Kirk when the powerful punt returner was a high schooler in Arizona, and he remembers watching a game when Kirk had seven touchdowns in 11 touches.
Because Mason knows firsthand just how effective Kirk is as a player, he’s preparing the Commodores for what they will see Saturday. The strategy for containing Kirk’s explosive return game — he has two punt return touchdowns and leads the nation with a 24.5-yard average — is coverage and ball placement down the field.
“You try to do what you can when you have a dynamic guy,” Mason said. “I challenged our guys to cover better.”
Mason is depending on punter Tommy Openshaw to put the ball “in the right spots” after his performance against Kentucky, where the sophomore showed improvement.
While Vanderbilt’s special teams is working on those two key areas, the Commodores’ defensive focus is on consistency. The Commodores have built a strong defensive mentality: They believe in the structure of the defense and play football by the inches.
“We just go out with an attitude that they aren’t going to score on us,” said senior linebacker Darreon Herring.
Vanderbilt pulled off two goal-line stands against Kentucky, and Mason doesn’t see his defense backing down to Texas A&M’s offense this week.
“Right now, they have an identity,” Mason said. “They have an identity and that is something they want to hold on to. That’s what I encourage every day — let’s not talk about it, let’s be about it.”