NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Derek Mason has seen Johnny McCrary tear up his Vanderbilt defense, frustrating the coach at how easily the quarterback scored over and over in red zone drills in August.
That's what makes the quarterback's start this season so painful.
Three of McCrary's five interceptions have come in the end zone through two games, both losses. The redshirt sophomore's latest interception cost Vanderbilt a chance to pull within three points in the fourth quarter of a 31-14 loss to then-No. 10 Georgia last week.
''Johnny's going to get better,'' Mason said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. ''I have no doubt. Johnny's my quarterback. I like his competitiveness. I like what he brings to the table. Right now he's just growing through it, so we're growing through it.''
The turnovers are why Vanderbilt is off to an 0-2 start this season. Worse, the Commodores rank dead last in the Football Bowl Subdivision scoring in the red zone out of 127 teams in that category. Two interceptions came in the end zone as Vanderbilt opened with a 14-12 loss to Western Kentucky.
The mistakes hurt considering Vanderbilt's defense, which Mason is coordinating this season, ranks 20th nationally and fifth in the Southeastern Conference limiting opponents' scoring in the red zone. After the Georgia loss, McCrary called his turnovers ''boneheaded mistakes'' and said he knows he has to learn and improve.
Vanderbilt actually is averaging 392.5 yards of total offense, up from last season, and leads the SEC in time of possession through two games. But the Commodores rank dead last in the SEC averaging only 13 points a game so far.
Mason said it's good the Commodores are moving the football and finding the red zone after struggling to get close last season.
''Decision-making is critical,'' Mason said. ''I believe that we got to continue to help Johnny, and we're doing that. He's been calm. At times, you've seen flashes of greatness, and he's struggled at times with making the right decision at the right time. You're going to live through some of that. He's got to get better every week, and we're challenging him to get better, and he will.''
McCrary and the Commodores host Austin Peay (0-2) on Saturday, a Football Championship Subdivision team that won one game last season. That should give McCrary and Vanderbilt a chance to work out some of the kinks before visiting No. 15 Mississippi on Sept. 26.
''It's ... a huge thing that we work on and plan to improve on,'' center Spencer Pulley said.
Senior linebacker Darreon Herring said McCrary played phenomenally through August. So while the Commodores on defense would like to see more of that on game day, they will be patient.
''He's still young,'' Herring said. ''He still has a lot of growing to do. The defense is confident he's going to get better.''
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org
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