Vanderbilt is adjusting to a new coach and an all-new coaching staff while looking for a new quarterback. They're also playing lots of very young Commodores, and so far the results have been downright ugly.
The Commodores gave up 547 yards of total offense in a game where they didn't cross midfield until late in the third quarter of a 41-3 loss Saturday to 15th-ranked Mississippi in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
Mason still is looking for his inaugural win at a program that went 9-4 and finished in the Top 25 each of the past two seasons. The Commodores have yet to score their first offensive touchdown and have been outscored 78-10. Mason played 25 freshmen and redshirt freshman against Ole Miss and promised the Commodores (0-2) will be better in two weeks than they were today.
"We're just fighting through the growing pains of being young," Mason said.
Mason did give Stephen Rivers the first start of his career at quarterback after the coach declined to announce a starter after rotating three in an opening loss to Temple.
Rivers was 6-of-25 for 60 yards, and Cliff Coleman picked off Rivers' first pass of the third quarter and ran it back 39 yards for a TD and a 27-0 lead. It was the first career start for Rivers, a transfer from LSU and the younger brother of Philip Rivers of the NFL's San Diego Chargers.
"That was my first start, and there were definitely some rookie mistakes," Rivers said. "I've been around a lot of games the past three years, but that was my first start, and there's definitely things I'm going to learn from."
Vanderbilt's defense struggled just as much.
Ole Miss outgained Vandy 331-76 in total offense at halftime and finished 547-167. The Rebels also piled up 34 first downs -- the most in a game under coach Hugh Freeze.
The Rebels scored on seven of their first eight possessions with the shortest drive covering 67 yards, and they never punted. Jaylen Walton started the scoring with a 20-yard TD, and I'Tavius Mathers and DeVante Kincade also ran for TDs.
Bo Wallace put the Rebels up 20-0 with a 20-yard TD pass to Cody Core, and he was sacked as the first half ended with Ole Miss threatening to score again. Playing an hour north of his hometown in Pulaski, Tennessee, Wallace had 249 yards by halftime and finished with 320 yards passing, his day done after Mathers' TD with 9:29 left in the third quarter.
"I love playing here," Wallace said. "It's fun for me to come up here. At the same time, it's just a game. More people I know get to see me play in person, but I don't think there's any more pressure."
The Rebels (2-0) now have beaten Vanderbilt in Nashville in consecutive seasons after the Commodores had won five of the previous six. The Rebels won in dominating fashion with their largest margin of victory against an SEC opponent since beating Mississippi State 45-0 in 2008.
"I'm excited to get a road SEC win for sure, and I thought our kids played a pretty solid game," Freeze said. "I thought Bo managed us really well. He made two decisions that he'll probably look at the film and say, 'Man, I should've done something different.' But I thought he played really solid."
This was the third game in Nashville for the Rebels since opening the 2013 season at Vanderbilt and their second straight at LP Field, home to the NFL's Tennessee Titans. It was their second road game to open the season, and the Rebels certainly made themselves at home in a crowd of 43,260 in the red and blue seats.