NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason likes a challenge, and he sure has one for his debut as the Commodores' defensive coordinator.
He'll try and shut down one of the nation's best offenses a year ago.
Brandon Doughty is back for a sixth year as quarterback at Western Kentucky, and he led the nation throwing for 4,830 yards and 49 touchdowns last season. He threw for five or more touchdowns in five games, including eight in a game at Marshall.
Mason couldn't sound happier at the chance to try to slow down Doughty and the Hilltoppers on Thursday night.
''I'm not trying to be cynical or not humble,'' Mason said. ''I like the challenge. I mean they're a good football team. They're a great offensive football team. ... that's what we want to play. That's why you line up in the SEC, to play games like this. The challenge is there, the opportunity is there for us to show who we are and what we can be, so let's do that.''
This will be the first game between these teams separated by 66 miles since 1938 and offers Mason a chance to show off the defensive skills that earned him his first head coaching job in January 2014. The Commodores went 3-9 and ranked 68th nationally in total defense in his debut season, so Mason named himself defensive coordinator after firing David Kotulski.
Mason spent the offseason working out all the details on handling the duties of both coordinator and head coach, and he is eager to face Doughty in the season opener for both teams.
Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm, who went 8-5 in his first season, has tried to prepare by studying not only Vanderbilt but what Mason did as defensive coordinator at Stanford.
''He's very good at what he does,'' Brohm said of Mason. ''They have guys that have some size and strength coming back that I know he feels very good about so they will present some challenges for us on offense.''
Some things to watch Thursday night:
STILL YOUTHFUL: Vanderbilt led the nation playing 31 combined freshmen last season, and the Commodores aren't much older this season. Mason said eight or nine freshmen could play Thursday night. Vanderbilt also has only nine seniors, second fewest behind only Wake Forest (six). Their two-deep chart includes 37 sophomores and freshmen.
STOPPING WEBB: Mason refused to say whether Johnny McCrary or Wade Freebeck starts at quarterback against Western Kentucky. Whoever starts will have to take some of the pressure off sophomore running back Ralph Webb. He set the freshman record at Vandy by running for 912 yards last season as the Commodores' best offensive threat, and they still ranked 113th nationally averaging 109.3 yards rushing per game. New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig joined Vandy from Wisconsin, and he wants the Commodores playing with a fast tempo.
STREAKING TOPPERS: Western Kentucky finished last season winning its final five games, the sixth-longest streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Another win would give the Hilltoppers their longest winning streak since 2002-03 when they won 13 straight. The Conference USA team now in its seventh season as an FBS member is 2-15 all-time against the Southeastern Conference, but 2-2 since 2012.
IMPROVED D: Western Kentucky ranked 120th nationally last season in total defense allowing 509.9 yards, but the Hilltoppers have nine starters back including two linebackers and the entire line.
BAD MEMORIES: The Commodores are so ready to start the 2015 season after losing the opener a year ago to Temple 37-7 in a game delayed for hours by lightning. Mason wants people to quit talking about last season, insisting his Commodores are ready for a brand new season. ''Teams are going to be shocked this year in what we do,'' Vandy linebacker Darreon Herring said.
AP college football website: http://collegefootball.ap.org/
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