NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Derek Mason knows who his new starting quarterback is. The Vanderbilt coach just isn’t saying, not while looking for every advantage possible in the Commodores’ season opener.
Whoever starts under center for Vanderbilt on Saturday night will be making his first in the Southeastern Conference on the road at No. 10 Texas A&M.
“Privately, I’ve whittled it down to two, and I understand exactly where I want to go,” Mason told reporters Tuesday. “Me and coach (Todd) Fitch talk about it every day. I think our reps really reflect that.”
The Commodores have four options with none having thrown a pass in an FBS-level game.
Both Ken Seals, who enrolled in January, and Mike Wright are freshmen. Jeremy Moussa and Danny Clark both are junior college transfers. Moussa took part in what spring practice Vandy had before the pandemic shut everything down but was limited by an injury.
Mason said he’s looking for consistency with all four quarterbacks have been given the same opportunities. He wants his starting quarterback to command the position, be versatile in the pocket and able to extend a play and get the offense lined up.
“The biggest thing is are you believable back there as the starter?” Mason said. “Guys have to gravitate toward you, and you got to make that huddle better.”
Mason started three quarterbacks and played four last season, and all are gone after a 3-9 season. The only player on the roster who’s thrown a pass in a game for Vanderbilt is wide receiver Cam Johnson who was 1 of 2 for 16 yards in 2019.
Clark is a lefthander who originally signed with Kentucky. He played last season at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Mississippi where he threw for 2,166 yards and 18 touchdowns. Moussa signed with Hawaii, then went 9-2 leading San Bernadino Valley College to a league title.
Seals threw for a school-record 5,714 yards and 53 touchdowns in Weatherford, Texas, then took most snaps in the spring practices Vanderbilt was able to have. Wright led Woodward Academy in Georgia to a 13-1 record and accounted for 3,369 yards of total offense and 50 touchdowns.
The starter will be working behind a revamped offensive line after four linemen opted out. Defensive tackle Drew Birchmeier, a senior with the longest streak of consecutive starts at 22, now is on the offensive line at left guard.
Center Grant Miller said each quarterback has his strengths: Moussa has a really strong arm, Clark is a vocal leader who picked up the playbook cleanly and both Wright and Seals are dynamic players who want to win.
“They all have their own strengths and pieces they fit in this offense,” Miller said.
If Seals or Wright start, he would be the third true freshman to start a season opener at quarterback in the Southeastern Conference since freshman eligibility was restored in 1972. Brent Schaeffer started the 2004 opener for Tennessee, while Bo Nix did it at Auburn last season.
“The guy who trots out there on Saturday will definitely give us our best chance for success, and the guy behind him, if needed, will give us a chance to move the ball and hopefully put some points on the board,” Mason said.