Spring Game Notebook: Neal Shows Out

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Riley Neal brings at least one new dimension to Vanderbilt’s quarterback position.
“Riley’s funny,” Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason joked, “because I sit back there, and he’s similar to Kyle [Shurmur], but he’s got a smile on his face. Kyle was always grimacing.”
Neal, a graduate transfer quarterback from Ball State, took first snaps during the Commodores’ annual Black and Gold Spring Game on Saturday. With redshirt junior Deuce Wallace not playing, Neal showed flashes of his experience from three years as a starter with the Cardinals.
On Vanderbilt’s first series in the controlled scrimmage, Neal found senior receiver Kalija Lipscomb for a 31-yard pickup. The 6-5 Yorktown, Indiana native made a number of impressive throws on the day, also hitting junior Chris Pierce and sophomore Amir Abdur-Rahman for other long gains. Moreover, Neal managed to show off his scrambling skills; he evaded linebackers Kenny Hebert and Caleb Peart for a nice gain on Vanderbilt’s first series.
Neal later said he felt comfortable leading the Commodores’ offense despite windy conditions at Vanderbilt Stadium. He also laughed when asked if he’s a jovial presence in the huddle.
“I try to be,” he said. “I smile a lot, I guess. But I try to be calm more than anything.”
Neal and Wallace have split most first-team reps for Vanderbilt this spring, but Mason said Wallace’s absence on Saturday did not affect the competition. In fact, this summer expect to be a pivotal time in the Dores’ quarterback battle.
“This thing’s going to go all the way up, I think, until a week before our first game,” Mason said. “That’s the way it needs to be. I think naming [a starter] right now, it’s not warranted and neither one of those guys have earned it. We’ve still got a long way to go, lot of ball to watch and things to clean up. We’re going to get better, for sure.”
More notes from Saturday’s Black and Gold Game:
 • With Wallace sidelined, redshirt freshman Allan Walters and true freshman Jamil Muhammad took plenty of snaps at quarterback. Walters recorded a 20-yard run on Vanderbilt’s second series of the day and notched a few nice completions.
Muhammad authored Vanderbilt’s first touchdown. The freshman kept the ball on a run-pass option and jetted up the middle from six yards out for a score. Muhammad later hit Abdur-Rahman for a 5-yard score.
“You saw some great flashes from Allan and Jamil,” Mason said. “But by the same token, it was moving fast. It looked like Neo going against Mr. Anderson in The Matrix. They were getting beat up a little bit. But they made some good plays, and that’s what good athletes do.”
 • Lipscomb, Abdur-Rahman, Pierce and Donaven Tennyson looked sharp as targets for Commodore quarterbacks. Lipscomb, an All-SEC pick from a year ago, said not to sleep on Vanderbilt’s group of pass-catchers.
We’re stacked,” he said. “I don’t think people get the full gist of the talent we have in that room.”
 • Mason praised the activity of his defensive front seven on Saturday. A number of players notched sacks, including a pair from freshman defensive lineman Daevion Davis and others from lineman Drew Birchmeier and linebackers Elijah McCallister and Michael Owusu and safety Gil Barskdale.
 • Running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn broke open a few runs in non-contact situations, but redshirt junior Jamauri Wakefield and sophomore Mitchell Pryor enjoyed extra snaps while Ja’Veon Marlow sat out the scrimmage. Wakefield ran in a touchdown in red-zone drills late in the game.
 • Redshirt safety Brendon Harris had a couple of solid plays on defense, including a pair of pass breakups.
 • Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dimitri Moore tallied several tackles, looking the part of a leader in the middle of coordinator Jason Tarver’s defense.