NCAA Football

‘Dores return one of NCAA’s most improved defenses

June 29, 2016

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June 29, 2016

When Vanderbilt hosts South Carolina in the season opener Sept. 1, the Commodores will feature an experienced defense that ranked among the nation’s most improved last year.

Thirteen defenders who enjoyed multiple starts a year ago – and 27 defensive letterwinners – are expected back when the Commodores start summer camp in early August on campus.

The defense looks to build on the successes experienced a year ago when the unit ranked among the NCAA’s most improved in several statistics, including scoring defense and total defense.

Vanderbilt ranked fourth nationally in most improved scoring defense last year allowing 21.5 points per game, 11.8 points less than in 2014. Nationally, the only teams with a higher point differential were Georgia State (15.0 pts.), North Carolina (14.5 pts.) and Western Kentucky (14.0 pts.).

The Commodores’ improvement in total defense ranked 13th nationally and topped all SEC teams. The ‘Dore defense allowed 52.3 less yards in 2015 than in 2014.

The improvement came after Derek Mason became one of a handful of head coaches nationally to serve as his team’s defensive coordinator. With Mason thoroughly involved in schemes and play calls, the defense quickly took on his attacking, aggressive style. The unit held seven of its first 10 opponents under 21 points – and kept SEC foes Missouri and Florida below 10 points.

The defense also ranked among SEC and national leaders in other key categories. It ranked second in the SEC by allowing just 17.2 first downs and allowing opponents to score on just 71 percent of their possessions inside the Vanderbilt 20-yard line. The Commodore defense also ranked third in the SEC by keeping opponents to 28% success rate on third-down conversions.

The Commodores experience and production on defense this year. Four of the unit’s top five tacklers from a year ago return, topped by unanimous first-team All-SEC linebacker Zach Cunningham. The junior ranked among the league’s leaders with 16.5 tackles for loss, 69 solo tackles, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

Versatile safety-linebacker Oren Burks (59 tackles, three interceptions), cornerbacks Torren McGaster (41 solo tackles, 13 passes defended) and Tre Herndon (35 solo tackles), and safety Arnold Tarpley (36 solos, five tackles for loss) are key returnees. Several top linemen from a year ago, including Adam Butler, Nifae Lealao, Torey Agee, Jay Woods and Jonathan Wynn, also among the 27 returning letterwinners.

Team 2015 Scoring Def.  2014 Scoring Def. change
Georgia State 28.3 pts. 43.3 pts. -15.0 pts.
No. Carolina 24.5 pts. 39.0 pts. -14.5 pts.
Western Ky. 25.9 pts. 39.9 pts. -14.0 pts.
Vanderbilt 21.0 pts. 33.3 pts. -12.3 pts.
Colorado 27.5 pts. 39.0 pts. -11.5 pts.

The Vanderbilt-South Carolina opener will be played before a national television audience on ESPN. Kickoff for the game in Vanderbilt Stadium is 7 p.m.

Season tickets for the Commodores’ six-game home schedule starts at only $250 for premium sideline seats and $135 for end-zone sections of Vanderbilt Stadium. Tickets can be purchased at here.

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