After 14 workouts this spring season, including two full-contact scrimmages, Vanderbilt football had its spring game Saturday morning at 11 A.M. CT. In a game that marked the end of spring practice,players got the opportunity to show their development thus far in a final test before summer workouts and fall camp.
“The goal in the spring game is to just bring things to a close in this segment, have something we share with our fans and our community and then ultimately get out injury free,” head coach Clark Lea said. “There’s something to be celebrated just in that, too.We’ll be mindful of both wanting to have a long enough exposure where we learn something about ourselves, where we’ll be able to compete, and we’re able to grow within football situations that come up within a game.”
Lea pitted the offense (Vanderbilt White) against the defense (Vanderbilt Black). Each offensive player was given a white jersey—with the exception of quarterbacks, who were dressed in red no-contact jerseys—and each player on defense and special teams wore black. Lea once again had players wear jerseys with only their names on the back and plain gold helmets without the typical Vanderbilt “Star V” logo.
Lea implemented a unique scoring system in order to keep things interesting. The offense was awarded points in a typical fashion: six points for a touchdown, one point for an extra point, three points for a field goal and two points for a two-point conversion. The defense, on the other hand, was awarded six points for a defensive touchdown, three points for forcing a turnover or a three-and-out, two points for a stop and one point for either a sack or tackle for loss.
On the opening drive, sophomore quarterback Ken Seals started behind center. He led the offense down the field and into the red zone with several throws to senior tight end Gavin Schoenwald, but the defense stopped them from getting into the end zone. Junior punter/kicker Jared Wheatley made a chip shot field goal, but since the defense made a stop, the score was 3-2 in favor of the offense after one possession.
Sophomore Mike Wright took snaps at quarterback on the next possession. It didn’t take long until he found sophomore wide receiver Will Sheppard open downfield for a 70-yard touchdown pass to put the offense up 10-2 after senior kicker Pierson Cooke knocked in the extra point.
Wright stayed in the game for the next possession, and he used his mobility to break free for a few runs and move the offense down the field. He found Sheppard again in the end zone for a 25-yard toss to keep the offense’s momentum rolling and putting them up 17-2 after Wheatley’s extra point.
The defense stopped the offense’s momentum on the next possession, however. Senior Jeremy Moussa, a transfer from San Bernardino Valley College, stepped in at quarterback, but the offense had a three-and-out and was forced to punt the ball away, making the score 17-5.
Moussa stayed in at quarterback on the next drive, and he used quick throws to steadily move the offense down the field and into the red zone. From the 10-yard line, he rolled to the right and found Schoenwald in the end zone, putting the offense up 24-5 after the extra point from Cooke.
On the next drive, Seals stepped back in at quarterback. Junior running back Re’Mahn Davis, a transfer from Temple University, had some strong runs before Seals found Sheppard in the end zone for Sheppard’s third touchdown of the day. After Wheatley made the extra point, the offense led 31-5.
Wright replaced Seals at quarterback on the next drive, and he showed off his speed, breaking free for a 70-yard rushing touchdown, giving the offense a 38-5 lead after Cooke’s extra point.
Sophomore running back Rocko Griffin showed off his quickness on a few runs on the next drive, but the defense shut the offense down, forcing a three-and-out and recording a tackle for loss, cutting the lead to 38-9.
Moussa took snaps at quarterback on the next drive, but it was Davis who gave the defense issues. He showed off his ability to be a dynamic running back as he made several catches before running for a 50-yard touchdown to put the offense up 45-9 after Wheatley’s extra point.
The defense had its best stand of the half on the next drive. The unit forced a three-and-out, and fifth-year senior linebacker Michael Owusu made a tackle for loss and junior defensive lineman Alex Williams recorded a sack. Their combined efforts cut the lead to 45-14.
Seals took over on offense the next possession. The defense recorded a tackle for loss, but Seals made a sideline pass to fifth-year wide receiver Chris Pierce Jr. that moved the offense into the red zone before Griffin punched it in, extending the lead to 51-15.
The defense forced a three-and-out on the final drive of the first half, cutting the lead to 51-18 at halftime.
After the first half, Lea was particularly impressed with the strong play from his quarterbacks (Seals, Wright and Moussa).
“All three guys have played well today,” he said when asked about the starting role at quarterback. “Strategically it’s about how long we keep this competition alive. I think the longer we keep this going the better these guys will play.”
On the opening drive of the second half, Moussa started under center. The defense recorded a tackle for loss, but Moussa moved the offense down the field before running in for a 15-yard touchdown, making the score 58-19 after Cooke’s extra point.
Wright stepped back in at quarterback on the next drive, throwing his third touchdown of the game on a 70-yard toss to sophomore wide receiver Logan Kyle. After Cooke knocked the extra point through, the offense led 65-19.
With the offense dominating the game in a high-scoring affair, a running clock was turned on with about seven minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The defense made a strong stand on the following drive, recording two tackles for a loss and forcing a three-and-out, cutting the lead to 65-24.
Seals came back in at quarterback on the next possession. The defense recorded a tackle for loss and stopped the offense from reaching the end zone, but Wheatley knocked in a chip shot field goal, making the score 68-27.
On the final drive of the game, senior walk-on Jack Bowen stepped in at the quarterback position, and the defense made another tackle for loss, as well as a stop, leaving the final score at 68-30 in favor of the offense.
The quarterbacks were the stars of the show Saturday morning. Wright finished the day with three passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown, Moussa had one rushing and one passing touchdown and Seals threw for a touchdown. Running backs Davis and Griffin each ran in for a touchdown.