Independence Bowl Preview: Vanderbilt vs. North Carolina State

Let’s Go Bowling

NASHVILLE, TN – NOVEMBER 26: Caleb Scott #9 of the Vanderbilt Commodores makes a reception against tight coverage by Malik Foreman #13 of the University of Tennessee Volunteers. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

On Dec. 26, Derek Mason will be making his first bowl appearance as a head coach. Mason and his Vanderbilt Commodores will take on North Carolina State in The Camping World Independence Bowl. The Dores finished the season 6-6 and on a very high note, capping the year with back-to-back wins to become bowl eligible. They were playing like a team on fire as they soundly beat Ole Miss 38-17. The following week, they spanked in-state rival, Tennessee, 45-34. As Coach Mason stated enthusiastically after the game “We didn’t want to sneak in the back door, we wanted to kick in the door.”



NC State is making their third bowl appearance under head coach Dave Doeren. His Wolfpack team started the season 4-1. They hit the skids late in the year and dropped four games in a row, but managed to clinch bowl eligibility in their final game of the season against the North Carolina Tarheels.

Defense, Defense, Defense

October 1, 2016: Vanderbilt Commodores inside linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) and defensive tackle Adam Butler (69) make a tackle during a 13-6 win by Florida over Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Jamie Gilliam/Icon Sportswire)

It is no secret that Vandy’s Black Death Defense has played lights out this season.

They are led by All-American Linebacker Zach Cunningham. The Commodores ended the regular season ranked No. 1 nationally in defensive red zone efficiency (65.9%) and No. 2 in offensive red zone conversions. The Dores defense held opponents without points on 15 of 44 red zone possessions. They were stingy with touchdowns as well. Opponents only scored on 20 of 44 red zone possessions (45.5%).

NC State ended the regular season ranked No. 5 nationally in rushing defense. The Wolfpack have allowed just 104.67 rushing yards per game. NC State’s front four led by Bradley Chubb will be looking to get their hands on Kyle Shurmur and Ralph Webb.

Teams on a Mission

Kyle Shurmur and the Vandy offense were on fire the month of November. The Dores offense improved exponentially in 2016, they scored 31 touchdowns in 44 trips to the red zone. Shurmur will have to have his passing game on point to score on the Chubb lead defense.

NC State’s Ryan Finley hit his hot streak at the beginning of the season. He had nine touchdown passes and no INTs. The Wolfpack are 6-1 when Finley is pick free and 0-5 when he throws an interception. The Vandy defense will need to put their hands on every ball they can.


To paraphrase Mason from his many bowl game interviews the last two weeks the Dores and the Wolfpack teams mirror each other; each overcoming similar struggles and obstacles this season. The Camping World Independence Bowl will most likely not be as high scoring as the 2012 Music City Bowl, and the last time these teams faced off. Vanderbilt beat NC State 38-24. Commodore nation hope springs eternal that history will repeat itself in Shreveport.

Commodores bowl appearances: 7; last in 2013, a 41-24 win over Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham

Wolfpack bowl appearances: 29; last in 2015, a 51-28 loss to Mississippi State in the Belk Bowl

Lucky Charm

NASHVILLE, TN – NOVEMBER 26: Head coach Derek Mason dances on the sideline during the final moments of a 45-34 victory over the University of Tennessee Volunteers at Vanderbilt Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Derek Mason was wearing a black Nike vest in the last two wins of the season. The Vanderbilt fans have become enamored with The Vest. Derek Mason’s Vest even has it’s own Twitter page.  The tweeting Vest has rallied Dore fans. So much so that Vanderbilt made The Vest available for purchase through the team website and Vandy football started using the hashtag #inVESTed. The Vest has become a popular subject in Mason’s pre-bowl interviews.

The #VESTIES will unite in Shreveport.




Viewing information

Date: Monday, Dec. 26
Time: 5 p.m. ET
Location: Independence Stadium — Shreveport, Louisiana

Live streams: WatchESPN / WatchESPN apps

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