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Vandy Defense Leading the Way

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Simply put, the Commodores are playing defense at a record-setting pace.

Early on in the college football season, the nation's best defense, by the numbers, resides in the SEC; it's not Alabama, Georgia or LSU, however, it's Vanderbilt. The Commodores have given up 318 yards and six points in two games, total. After boasting a top five scoring defense in the league a year ago, Vanderbilt, with former Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason now in his fourth season, is dominating the competition.

Remarkably, the Commodores rank in the national top eleven in every major statistical category: third-down defense (1st), fourth-down defense (1st-tied), red zone defense (1st-tied), scoring defense (2nd-tied), total defense (3rd), tackles for loss (8th-tied), rush defense (9th), sacks (9th-tied), interceptions (10th-tied) and pass defense (11th). For good measure, Vanderbilt has the second-most blocks of any team in the country and, if you slot pass defense off of opposing passer rating, would rank in the top ten there as well.    
 
For point of reference, the Commodores have surrendered fewest total points than defending national champion Clemson -- and the Tigers haven't yet allowed a touchdown. The lone score that Vanderbilt has given up came in the fourth quarter of a game that was, at the time, 28-0; the Commodores blocked the ensuing extra point try.

Vanderbilt's opening performance was especially-impressive. The Commodores held a Middle Tennessee attack that averaged over 517 yards per game in 2016 to just 215 yards. In the Blue Raiders' three final games to end last year, they compiled a staggering 1,770 offensive yards. Vanderbilt limited Middle Tennessee quarterback Brent Stockstill to merely 166 yards, his lowest total in a full game ever. A week after struggling in Nashville, the Blue Raiders beat Syracuse in upstate New York.

"They're a good defense, and they make life hard on you," Stockstill nodded post-game.     

Last weekend, Mason's Commodores earned the program's first shutout since 2012 in a 42-0 win over Alabama A&M.

Junior linebacker Charles Wright has emerged as a star for the Commodores as he is tied for the lead in all of power five football with four sacks. Along with Wright, junior end Dare Odeyingbo has 4.5 tackles for loss. Senior linebacker Emmanuel Smith has 16 total stops and senior cornerback Tre Herndon has three pass deflections. Most impressively, the unit is playing near-perfect team defense as a confident collective group.  

Next up for Vanderbilt is a tough test with nationally-ranked Kansas State, which boasts a top 25 rushing attack at 245 yards per game. The challenge awaits as an important barometer for a rapidly-approaching stretch against powers Alabama, Florida and Georgia in consecutive weeks. The Commodores' upcoming month may very well be the toughest in all of college football; a rock-solid defense has Vanderbilt ready for a run.  

Simply put, the Commodores are playing defense at a record-setting pace. Their production very nearly stands alone.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports