NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Derek Mason has heard the question about this starting quarterback for a month, and the Vanderbilt coach still isn’t talking — at least not publicly.
Everyone will apparently have to wait for the Commodores’ first offensive series against No. 3 Georgia on Saturday night to find out who he picked as his starter.
Looking at Vanderbilt’s depth chart provides no hint if it’s Deuce Wallace or graduate transfer Riley Neal, though Wallace is listed first. And Mason said anything is possible when asked if Vanderbilt might play both Wallace and Neal.
“Anytime you play against an SEC opponent, it’s nice to have two quality quarterbacks,” Mason said Tuesday. “I’m going to start with the quarterback and at the end of the day if I need to sub, then I’ll sub. But then there’s a (No.) 1, there’s a 2. That’s how we set it, and that’s the way we’ll play.”
Keeping the quarterback hidden only helps so much. Georgia coach Kirby Smart said the Bulldogs have video of Neal playing at Ball State and even has some coaches who recruited the quarterback out of high school. They are preparing to see both Neal and Wallace.
“I have been there before on the quarterback situation, so I know how it goes and being able to manage it,” Smart said. “We expect to be able to see both of those guys.”
Vanderbilt is just 12-26-2 against Georgia, though the Commodores have won two of the last six under Mason. Not announcing a starter at quarterback could be viewed as an attempt at creating some competitive advantage against a team that won the SEC East Division last December.
For the record, the Commodores actually list four quarterbacks on their depth chart. The 6-foot-2 Wallace is the redshirt junior who has taken snaps in a Commodores’ uniform, though that was in 2017 when he appeared in four games. Wallace is 11 of 22 for 94 yards cleaning up after Kyle Shurmur, who’s now with the NFL’s Chiefs.
Neal has both more size and experience as a starter at 6-6 and 225 pounds. Neal transferred to Vanderbilt after graduating from Ball State where he played 34 games and is 731 of 1,219 for 7,393 yards with 46 touchdowns and 25 interceptions.
“The competition between Deuce and him was outstanding,” Mason said. “I thought … Deuce’s expertise in what we do and how we do it challenged Riley’s idea of where he had come from. He had to change some of his mechanics. He had to focus on like what we do, he had to assimilate to a program that’s run just a little bit differently.”
Mason said Neal’s got a good arm.
“When it’s all said and done,” Mason said, “you can only march one of those guys out there so we’ll see on Saturday.”
The Commodores, coming off a second bowl in three seasons under Mason, know who their starting quarterback will be. Senior tight end Jared Pinkney isn’t concerned about chemistry with that quarterback against a team from the Southeastern Conference.
“I’ve caught a ton of balls from both these guys, so just being able to see them spin it the way they do in practice it definitely gives me the confidence to expect them to do the same thing in the game,” Pinkney said.
Notes: Mason said Vanderbilt has yet to hear from the NCAA on whether defensive tackle Malik Langham can play immediately. He transferred from Florida and played two games last season before sitting out the rest of the season as a redshirt. Vanderbilt lists Langham as a backup
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25