Derek Mason will have an extra weapon in his offensive arsenal this weekend. Freshman quarterback Kyle Shurmur has been cleared to play after suffering a head injury two weeks ago against Houston.
The Vanderbilt head coach told reporters that he'll have full access to his quarterback depth chart against Kentucky at Tuesday's weekly press conference. Shurmur had started two games behind center before a monster Houston hit flattened him and prevented him from playing in the team's 7-9 loss at No. 10 Florida. He'll hope to jump start a Vandy offense that managed only 31 passing yards last game.
Mason was optimistic that his team could learn from their failed upset bid and hit Kentucky at full speed. Here's what he said on Tuesday:
These guys are ready for the challenge this week. Again, you've got to shake it off real fast 'cause it's always a sprint to Saturday in this conference.
The first question he fielded revolved around a special teams unit that allowed Florida to start seven different drives in Vanderbilt territory last weekend.
We had a couple of opportunities on the big return that we saw. We saw a couple of guys get out of their lanes - that's just about doing your job and being able to fit it where you need to fit it. So ... we just need to make sure that we are better; we do a better job of controlling what we can control and when it's all said and done we'll be able to, you know, minimize the damage.
He also hinted to a potential shake up in the team's kicking game. He failed to commit to a player when asked about the "-or-" distinction between Tommy Openshaw and Hayden Lekacz as the team's go-to placekicker.
We'll figure it out. We're just making sure that we hold everyone accountable. We continue to look for the best options at every position.
That led into another area where Vanderbilt struggled last weekend - their passing offense.
I thought Johnny looked to get the ball out to those guys [his receivers] early and, what happens is, we did a good job of running the football, and you want the balance between the run and pass. I think guys have got to make a couple of plays for him, but I also think he's got to be able to stay in there, make sure he continues to go through the progression and when there's an opportunity to get it in there, to get it in there. But, for the most part we didn't turn the ball over. And I'll say it again, if we don't turn the ball over we've got the chance to beat anyone we play.
I think we made a step in the right direction in terms of taking care of the football.
Mason then touched on Kyle Shurmur's return to the offense.
He's fully available. He's ready to go, and we'll continue to look at these guys as they go through the week of practice.
He also made a point of praising his running back stable, starting with Ralph Webb and singling out Darrius Sims and Josh Crawford as a key part of the team's multi-faceted rushing attack. Then, he went on to single out Kentucky tailback Stanley "Boom" Williams as the Wildcats' most potent offensive weapon.
Obviously getting "Boom" back is huge for them. Boom is dynamic in terms of what he does because he's able to give them a run presence that allows them to be balanced in what they do. Very much like Ralph, a little bigger maybe, the same speed, but very shifty in space.
Here's the full press conference, courtesy of VUCommodores.com: