Commodores face uncertainty at the helm as they travel to play Purdue

Riley Neal’s lack of downfield passing attempts against Georgia is having fans wonder whether a change at quarterback is necessary.


Photo by Hunter Long.

Jesse Goldman and Jake Schwartz

Going into Week 1, Vanderbilt Head Coach Derek Mason left a lot up in the air regarding his starting Quarterback against Georgia. The depth chart looked bare after Kyle Shurmur’s departure for the draft, but graduate transfer Riley Neal and redshirt junior Deuce Wallace looked to take over the helm and hit the ground running. Both quarterbacks battled it out this summer and Coach Mason eventually made the decision to go with Neal.

After being handled easily by Georgia, losing 30-6, and Neal completing 14/25 for only 85 yards on the night, more questions on the quarterback battle began to rise heading into Vanderbilt’s next matchup against Purdue. How can Vanderbilt use the quarterback position to facilitate big plays to Vanderbilt’s Big 3 skill players? Will Neal be playing on a short leash? Will we see Deuce against Purdue? Will the coaching staff make the right decision? 

After four years at Ball State University, with year three ending in a medical redshirt, Riley Neal’s graduate transfer to Vanderbilt provided the program with something it did not have: a signal-caller with game experience. With three-year starter Kyle Shurmur graduating last Spring, it is understandable why head coach Derek Mason and new offensive coordinator Gerry Gdowski would want a quarterback they felt could step in and play right away. This is only emphasized by the fact that Vanderbilt rosters one of the best skill position trios in the SEC in Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Jared Pinkney, and Kalija Lipscomb.

The issue arises when Vanderbilt’s offensive production does not match its level of talent, which was the situation against Georgia. The offense put only six points on the scoreboard, with Neal averaging only 3.4 yards per pass attempt. With those three playmakers on the field, that number is disappointing for Vandy, even against a great Georgia defense.

Last year, Kyle Shurmur averaged 7.7 yards per pass attempt, and high-level QBs Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa average over 10 yards per attempt. In his career at Ball State, Neal averaged only 6.1 yards per attempt. In the coming weeks, he is going to have to prove he can throw the ball down the field, or a change at quarterback may be imminent. 

 Deuce Wallace has had a tumultuous run with the Vanderbilt Commodores. He was dismissed from the team and from Vanderbilt last season for an undisclosed issue. However, this season was his chance to change the narrative. With the opening at quarterback, this summer, Wallace looked to capitalize on the opportunity. Although he lost the summer competition to Riley Neal, he was able to salvage a drive at the end of the game against Georgia going 2/6 for 24 yards.

One of Wallace’s most notable attributes, in camp and on his sole drive, was his quick feet and mobility in the pocket. With the nagging injuries and lack of experience at offensive line, these characteristics are valued highly by the Vanderbilt coaching staff. Yet, Wallace’s role is still up in the air going forward.

“[His drive] didn’t surprise me at all,” said Gdowski of his now backup signal-caller. “Deuce is a really good player, he’s got the same demeanor. When he goes in there he’s a calm, confident guy and at times you will continue to see him in the game, possibly.”

Gdowski pointed out Wallace’s collective nature at the line which sheds light on his growing maturity and experience at quarterback.  He seemed confident in Wallace’s abilities and if any troubles with Neal arise against Purdue, it is certainly within the realm of possibility that Wallace sees more than just a drive. 

Although Riley Neal may have a shorter leash when the Commodores make the trip up north to Purdue on Saturday, nothing that Coach Mason or Coach Gdowski have said points to Neal not making the start. Keeping in mind that third-ranked Georgia was the opposing team in Neal’s first start in the offensive system, giving him another opportunity is the smart decision. However, with #6 LSU just a week away, if Vanderbilt’s offense remains stagnant in Week 2, this quarterback battle will really heat up during the bye week.