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2016 Vanderbilt Football Position Previews: Quarterback

Improved QB play would take the Vanderbilt offense a long way in 2016.

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Vanderbilt Commodores’ offense in 2015 was meme-worthy, and we don’t mean that in a good way. Dumpster fire, tire fire, Deep Water Horizon, whatever you want to call it... it wasn’t good. The Commodores ranked 124th (of 128) in FBS in points per game with 15.2. Advanced stats weren’t much better: the Commodores ranked 117th in Offensive S&P+.

There were, obviously, lots of issues with the offense in 2015, but one of the biggest was quarterback play. Johnny McCrary opened the season as the starting quarterback, and he completed 146-of-267 passes (a 54.7% completion rate) for 1533 yards with 12 interceptions to only 6 touchdown passes. McCrary was somewhat effective as a runner; excluding sacks, he rushed 51 times for 316 yards.

Do those numbers sound bad to you? Well, here’s McCrary’s stat line if you remove his stat-padding in the Austin Peay game: 118-234 (50.4% completion rate) for 1165 yards (5.0 yards per attempt) with 4 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, with 275 rushing yards on 46 non-sack rushing attempts. That’s really bad.

McCrary was pulled as the permanent starter after the South Carolina game for true freshman Kyle Shurmur, and transferred to Mercer after the season.

Projected Depth Chart

# Player Year Height/Weight GP Comp Att Yards TD INT Sack Rush RYds
14 Kyle Shurmur Soph. 6'4"/223 5 44 103 503 5 3 9 5 24
12 Wade Freebeck Jr. 6'5"/225 1 2 6 26 0 1 0 0 0
3 Shawn Stankavage RSoph. 6'2"/201 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2 Deuce Wallace Fr. 6'2"/205 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Kyle Shurmur took over as the starting quarterback midway through his true freshman season — and as you’d expect from a true freshman (albeit one with very good tools), he was inconsistent to say the least. In spite of posting a lower completion percentage than McCrary and a slightly lower yards per attempt, he was probably more effective mainly due to his lower interception rate.

Shurmur was wildly inconsistent, though. He was perfectly cromulent in the Missouri game (10-20 for 89 yards.) That was followed by a nightmare performance against Houston (3-11 for 20 yards and an INT before getting injured), he missed the Florida game, then did fine against Kentucky (13-26, 166 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT), stunk up the joint against Texas A&M (3-12 for 19 yards with an INT), and was acceptable at Tennessee (15-34, 209 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT), albeit with some garbage-time stat padding thrown in there.

That said, an inconsistent receiving corps and an offensive line that couldn’t keep Shurmur upright played a role in his performance as well, but a more consistent performance from Shurmur would go a long way toward offensive improvement in 2016. Derek Mason has already named Shurmur the starter.

The rest of the depth chart isn’t that hard to figure out, either. Wade Freebeck is the only other QB on the roster with game experience and enters the season as the second-string quarterback by default. In two seasons, Freebeck has completed 36-of-78 passes for 402 yards with 1 TD and 6 INT; he appeared in the Austin Peay game last year but otherwise didn’t see the field.

Shawn Stankavage (4-for-7, 58 yards in the spring game) is probably ahead of early enrollee Deuce Wallace (2-for-2, 19 yards in the spring game) on the depth chart. It’s debatable, as Stankavage hasn’t seen the field in two years at Vanderbilt, but Wallace is likely headed for a redshirt year and at the very least, if either of the two is going to see garbage time action in 2016 it’s going to be Stankavage. If both Shurmur and Freebeck are benched due to injury and/or ineffectiveness, you could maybe make an argument for burning Wallace’s redshirt — but, then again, if it gets to that point the season is probably shot either way and there’s really not going to be much utility in playing a not-ready Wallace. I would be very surprised if Wallace sees the field in 2016.

The Commodores also have walk-on junior John Webb, who completed 1-of-2 passes for 9 yards in the spring game. Webb is strictly an emergency option (and, in fact, since he wears the same uniform number as WR Donaven Tennyson, Vanderbilt literally cannot use both of them at the same time.)