Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason had a lot of issues to wade through during his first year in Nashville. A year removed from the program's improbable three-year bowl string, the Commodores fell to an unflattering 3-9 record that left Mason ushering in a new staff for the 2015 season.
As the Commodores look to get back on solid ground, they'll have to start by figuring out their situation at quarterback:
Position to improve: Quarterback
Why it was a problem: From the start, Vanderbilt’s coaching staff couldn’t settle on one quarterback. The Commodores used multiple quarterbacks in games eight times, going 2-6 in the process. Even when Vandy kept one quarterback in for an entire game, the Commodores went just 1-3, with those starters throwing for 622 yards with seven touchdowns and five interceptions on 49-of-110 passing (.445). First, Patton Robinette – the one with the most experience coming in – didn’t work out after only a few snaps in the opener. So the staff moved to LSU transfer Stephen Rivers, who basically fizzled out after a blowout loss to Ole Miss in Week 2. By the time redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary started back-to-back games late in the year, the season was lost and even McCrary couldn’t stay as the full-time guy for long. With four different quarterbacks starting games, there was absolutely no continuity at quarterback, and that really affected an offense that ranked 13th or worse in all four major offensive categories.
How it can be fixed: Mason and new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Andy Ludwig need to push a real, tough quarterback battle this spring and then find a concrete starter coming out of fall camp -- if not before. It's time to find a quarterback and ride him through the good and the bad. The quarterback-by-committee approach didn’t work last season, and there’s no reason for anyone to believe it will work this year. With Rivers deciding to transfer, the Commodores return McCrary, Robinette and rising sophomore Wade Freebeck, who, of course, all played and started last year. What would also help is some sort of development at receiver. The Commodores return three of their top receiving targets, but none reached the 40-catch mark, nor did any catch more than four touchdowns. Someone has to step up as a consistent playmaker to help these quarterbacks. Having a solid, young running back in Ralph Webb (912 yards and four touchdowns) returning will provide a nice safety net for anyone under center.
Early 2015 outlook: Having three experienced quarterbacks returning means that Vandy’s coaches won’t exactly be telling these guys things they don’t already know about how to prepare and what to expect. The problem is that none of them were very successful when given the opportunity last year. That means there’s a lot of development that must take place immediately this spring. Ludwig will also have freshman Shawn Stankavage to mentor this spring. He sat out all of last year, but did work as a scout-team quarterback. Vandy also has two quarterbacks committed in its 2015 recruiting class, including ESPN 300 member Kyle Shurmur, who is the No. 7-ranked pocket passer by ESPN’s RecruitingNation. The Commodores will once again have a logjam at quarterback, but the hope is that Vandy’s staff can finally find one guy to lead this team.