By Zac Ellis
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason didn’t shy away from his own history with season openers. As the Commodores prepared to face Middle Tennessee this week, Mason was asked if his 0-3 record in opening games at Vanderbilt added a chip on his shoulder.
“Yeah, it’s a chip,” Mason said. “It sits there, it stares me in the face everyday. I haven’t let this football team forget it.”
After Saturday, Mason can stare right back and smile.
Vanderbilt opened the 2017 season with a convincing 28-6 win over Middle Tennessee at Floyd Stadium. Simply put, the Dores did what they needed to do. They were explosive on offense and managed to contain a dynamic MTSU attack along the way. That recipe lifted the Dores to a 1-0 record for the first time in Mason’s tenure
But Mason was most impressed with Vanderbilt’s ability to start fast and set the tone against Middle Tennessee, a longtime goal of this program on both sides of the ball.
“For us, I thought we started from the jump and had great momentum from the beginning,” Mason said. “Offensively, defensively and on special teams, I thought we started strong.”
Indeed, the Commodores wasted little time imposing their will on MTSU. They scored touchdowns on their first two drives, the latter sparked by Bryce Lewis’ interception of Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill. Just like that, Vanderbilt had a double-digit lead with 8:41 left in the first quarter.
THE POINT AFTER: Breaking down Vanderbilt's win over Middle Tennessee
By halftime, the Dores had built a 21-0 advantage, and they failed to relent on that pressure as the game progressed. Vanderbilt added one more touchdown in the third quarter and allowed MTSU to reach the end zone just once in the second half.
Quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who finished 20-28 for 296 yards and tied a single-game career-high with three touchdowns, said Vanderbilt’s locker room recognized its own potential long ago.
“It’s not a surprise to ourselves,” Shurmur said. “I think we got better this offseason.”
Vanderbilt is just one game into 2017, but this is already a season of firsts. The Commodores opened the year with a win on the road for the first time since 2008. Indeed, they kicked off a season with a victory for the first time since 2011. But perhaps most importantly, Vanderbilt set the tone for the fall, avoiding the pitfalls of a 0-1 hole to begin the season.
The Dores can use this momentum as they navigate a tough schedule. Following next week’s home opener against Alabama A&M, Vanderbilt welcomes Kansas State to Nashville, the first of four straight ranked opponents. The Dores looked sharp against Middle Tennessee, but the road gets bumpier from here on out.
That’s why Mason liked what he saw from his squad in Murfreesboro on Saturday.
“It’s 2017, it’s a new year,” Mason said. “What we talked about was going 1-0, and that’s what we did tonight. It was really important, because for us it was something we haven’t done here in my tenure, and we got it done.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics. Check out his story archive and follow him on Twitter here.