Vanderbilt will be without two key players for the rest of the season - and they may be without freshman quarterback Kyle Shurmur for this week's game against Florida.
Linebacker Nigel Bowden and offensive lineman Justin Skule will both miss the remainder of 2015 due to injuries. Bowden had already missed the majority of the season due to lingering concussion symptoms, while Skule was part of the team's impromptu emergency room impression during last week's 34-0 loss to Houston. Shurmur was hit hard late in that defeat, and his return for Saturday's showdown in the swamp is questionable.
He opened his press conference by addressing the retirement of Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and the firing of Titans' coach Ken Whisenhunt before moving on to two more notable absences in Nashville:
I want to talk about our injuries as well. We've had some injuries here, and I want to speak to Nigel Bowden and Justin Skule. Those two young men will be out for the remainder of the year and we look forward to getting them back next season.
- Derek Mason
Mason could not confirm that Bowden would be able to play next season, but was optimistic in his chances to resume his college football career. He also noted that defensive lineman Adam Butler had returned to the practice field after leaving the Houston game with an apparent leg injury. The prognosis for Shurmur, who left Saturday's game with a head injury, was not as clear. He's currently going through the team's concussion protocol. Here's what Mason had to say about his quarterback situation.
We've got to put the best quarterback on the field that gives us the best chance to win the football game.
We all saw what happened to Kyle. We understand that he's day-to-day in his process right now. Whether it be Johnny [McCrary] or whether it be Wade Freebeck, our situation is such where whoever steps on the field has got to be a guy who manages the game. And, believe me, we'll have a gameplan that allows that quarterback to manage the game and we'll put ourselves in the position to score points; the thing that we have to do is take care of it.
Reporters noticed that Mason had diverged from an early season strategy that maintained one quarterback as the starter and one as the team's backup. The Commodore head coach denied that was the case, but then explained how the circumstances of the season forced his hand.
It's not a change of mind. I think that's just your assessment of it...
We couldn't continue to do the same things and expect different results. That's what I've spoken to the past couple of weeks. At the end of the day, it's about not turning the ball over and giving us the chance to be in ball games. And whatever quarterback gives you a chance to do that, that's who you're going to play.
With that, Kyle suffered an injury on Saturday. It really makes it next man up. With that, Wade Freebeck has to be the next man up behind Johnny.
[Mason is a sked about whether or not he'll just play one QB Saturday]
Hey man, I'd love to just play just one quarterback.
When pressed on the status of his offensive line, Mason expressed confidence in his team's preparation despite an ever-thinning depth chart at the blocking positions.
I haven't been one for excuses, but we've had a lot of injuries...the young guys have to step up, the next man steps in. That's what you have to do.
We'll look at this week, we'll get young guys ready to play, we'll have old guys on deck. If a guy is questionable, but he can give us some pitches, we'll take it.
While Saturday's loss was the team's worst defeat of 2015, Mason was optimistic that his team could learn and improve despite being shut out and turning the ball over four times.
We look to put that game behind us, in terms of what it is. We took one on the chin, and it was a tough game. I woke up Sunday morning, the sun was shining, and we had to get back to work.
I think what you look at are the teachable moments in the ballgame, and what you can take in a ballgame like this to help your team move forward.
Finally, there was some good news late in the press conference. Defensive end Caleb Azubike will return to action this week after missing the past three games due to an emergency dental procedure that Mason characterized as a broken jaw. Azubike wasn't the only defensive player to earn a call out; the Commodore head coach also lauded the play of his leading tackler Zach Cunningham during the media Q&A.