Spring Game Storylines

Five things to watch in Saturday's Black and Gold Spring Game

by Zac Ellis

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – For the first time since November, Vanderbilt football returns to Vanderbilt Stadium this Saturday for the annual Black and Gold Spring Game. Festivities kick off with regular practice at 10:30 a.m. CT before an offense-vs.-defense scrimmage beginning at 11 a.m..

This spring, sixth-year head coach Derek Mason returns a dozen starters from the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl and 53 total letterwinners, including 25 on offense, 26 on defense and two on special teams.

Here are five storylines to watch in Saturday’s Black and Gold Spring Game:

1. Playmakers on offense
Don’t expect a ton of action from two of Vanderbilt’s Big Three on Saturday. While wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb is expected to play several series, tight end Jared Pinkney and running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn aren’t likely to take many snaps. But that opens the opportunity for younger players to show out on offense.

Keep an eye on Amir Abdur-RahmanCam Johnson and Chris Pierce in the receiving corps, three players who have turned heads during spring workouts. Among running backs, sophomore Mitchell Pryer and redshirt junior Jamauri Wakefield should get plenty of chances to impress with the rock on Saturday.

2. Eye on the quarterback
For the first time in four years, Kyle Shurmur will not line up under center for the Vanderbilt offense. Thus, plenty of eyes will be on the quarterback position on Saturday.

Ball State graduate transfer Riley Neal and redshirt junior Deuce Wallace have spent most of spring splitting first-team reps. Neal was a three-year starter at Ball State who threw for 7,393 career yards. Wallace, of course, has plenty of familiarity with Vanderbilt’s offense, as well as the system of new offensive coordinator Gerry Gdowski, but has missed the team’s last two practices and is questionable to play Saturday.

Other quarterbacks who may see action in the Black and Gold Game are redshirt freshman Allan Walters, freshman Jamil Muhammad and sophomore walk-on Jack Bowen.

3. Secondary improvement
It’s no secret Vanderbilt loses a key piece in its secondary in All-SEC cornerback Joejuan Williams. But Mason has been pleased with the competition on the back-end of his defense this spring.

Much is expected from redshirt junior Elijah Hamilton and redshirt sophomores Allan George and Randall Haynie at the cornerback spot. George and Haynie ranked behind Williams last year with five defensed passes each. Tae DaleyMax Worship, Brenden Harris and Dashaun Jerkins are among the names to watch at safety.

4. Talent in the trenches
Vanderbilt’s offensive and defensive lines will look different in the Black and Gold Game.

On offense, the battle at center has been an intriguing competition all spring between redshirt sophomore Grant Miller and redshirt freshman Dan DawkinsCole Clemens and Saige Young continue to solidify their roles along the line that loses some senior leadership.

Meanwhile, Mason has praised the consistency of his defensive line during workouts. Juniors Cameron Tidd and Drew Birchmeier have stepped up as leaders of the group.

5. Spotlight on the outside
A number of players could make an impact at outside linebacker this season, as Vanderbilt looks to replace the departed Josh Smith and Jordan Griffin. The latter player was the team’s leading tackler in 2018 with 119 total stops.

Caleb PeartKenny Hebert, Elijah McCallister and Michael Owusu should hear their names called on the outside on Saturday. Meanwhile, Dimitri Moore (84 total tackles last fall) is the leader on the inside after an All-SEC Freshman campaign in 2018.