NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt may have to start a third different quarterback this season come Saturday when it visits No. 10 Florida.
Head coach Derek Mason said this week that Riley Neal – the starter for the majority of the season – and Mo Hasan – who started the Oct. 26 win over Missouri – have remained in the concussion protocol this week. That leaves redshirt junior Deuce Wallace and redshirt freshman Allan Walters as the next men in line.
“They’re both going to have to be up,” Mason said of Walters and Wallace. “Somebody is going to start, somebody is going to back up. I’ll see how it goes throughout the week and then we’ll make a determination on Saturday.”
Wallace, after missing the entire 2018 season, has now played in 10 games during his Vandy career. This year he’s appeared in six contests and completed 43.4 percent of his throws for 217 yards.
Walters, who redshirted in 2018, has yet to see the field for the Commodores. The New Jersey native threw for more than 2,200 yards and completed 31 touchdowns as a senior in high school.
“For him it’s been a year in the making. When you saw it turn on the light really turned on in terms of how he would come in and operate and watch film and really start to ask questions,” Mason said of Walters. “He started to ask me more questions, he started asking his position coach more questions and that’s when a guy is starting to turn the corner.
“For him it’s never been a wonder about his talent, it’s just about the maturity and right now I think he’s in a good place. When opportunity knocks you got to be ready.”
As a team, Vanderbilt is 149-for-273 passing this season (54.6 percent) for 1,530 yards and seven touchdowns with seven interceptions. Neal, who has an undergraduate degree from Ball State, has the team’s season-high for passing yards in a game this year with 378 in a loss at Purdue on Sept. 7.
Wallace came into the season as the team’s No. 2 quarterback behind Neal. The Sevier County (Tenn.) High School graduate threw his only career touchdown pass Oct. 14, 2017, at Mississippi.
“They’re competing,” Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Gerry Gdowski said after Wednesday’s practice. “I think they’ve gotten better – and obviously the more reps you get I think the more comfortable you get and the more comfortable you feel.
“(Hasan) probably had the most different skillset of everybody. So from that standpoint it was a little different. The rest of the guys, for the most part, are similar, as far as what you’re trying to do offensively.”
Whomever starts at quarterback for Vanderbilt will have its work cut out for it against the Gators’ defense. Florida (7-2, 4-2 SEC) leads the Southeastern Conference in quarterback sacks and has the fourth-most interceptions in the country with 12.
Florida has also surrounded just 16.7 points per game which ranks 11th nationally.
“They’re athletic. They can really run. They’re really good on the edge. They can get after the passer in pass-rush situations,” Gdowski said. “We just got to do well on first and second down and try to keep the third downs manageable so they can’t tee off on us and try to be physical up front and get 5 (Ke’Shawn Vaughn) the touches. Then we got to create some explosive plays somehow, someway.”
The Commodores (2-6, 1-4 SEC) have to figure out a way to score against that defense despite the situation in front of them.
Like most teams, they’re used to having quarterbacks rotate in and out during spring practice, fall training camp and weekly preparations. But seeing that scenario transpire so often during the course of 60 minutes on Saturdays this fall has been an adjustment.
“I think that when you’re in camp and practice you get a taste of that, especially when you’re rotating so many guys and you’re getting a feel for the offense and it’s an open competition,” Vanderbilt redshirt freshman Cam Johnson said. “It’s not necessarily that we’re used to, but in a game situation I’ve never dealt with something like that.”