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Sifting through Vanderbilt's quarterback mess

If you got two quarterbacks, you got none. So what does it mean when you have three?

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Stephen Rivers miming for a safety line.
Stephen Rivers miming for a safety line.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

And you thought Ole Miss had quarterback questions after Dr. Bo's interception-fest against Boise State. Last Thursday, Vanderbilt made as many quarterback changes as Bo Wallace had interceptions, churning through three signal callers -- then cycling back for a fourth -- during a shockingly bad 37-7 loss to Temple in which their only touchdown came on a botched special teams snap.

Vandy spent the offseason evaluating a three-way race for the starting quarterback position, but heading into a Week 2 matchup against the Rebels, they're already back at square one. New head coach Derek Mason, who looked befuddled at the helm last Thursday, said he doesn't plan on making his starter for Saturday public knowledge, which means we likely won't find who will be under center until just before game time.

Let's take a look at what went wrong last week and what the Rebs can expect to see on Saturday.

Derek Mason and the Temple of Doom

Nothing looked good for Vandy against Temple, but the quarterback debacle was of particular concern.

Sophomore Patton Robinette, who made three starts in place of an injured Austyn Carta-Samuels last season, earned the starting gig out of camp and was the first under center. That lasted all of five drives. After starting 4-of-6, Robinette was abruptly pulled five minutes into the second quarter.

In came Stephen Rivers, the LSU graduate transfer who bolted Baton Rouge after spending two years behind Zach Mettenberger (he's also the brother of Philip). Rivers looked like he was getting into gear on his third drive, completing three consecutive passes to move into the red zone, then promptly fumbled the ball away. After starting 6-of-9 but failing to lead a scoring drive, he was yanked early in the third quarter.

Next in the carousel was redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary, who managed to throw two picks in the span of three attempts and earn a swift exit. With his options exhausted, Mason was forced to make an embarrassing backtrack to Rivers, who finished out the game.

Player Snaps Comp/Att Yards Turnovers
Patton Robinette 17 4/6 38 0
Stephen Rivers 39 12/25 186 2
Johnny McCrary 6 0/3 0 2

Who starts against the Rebels?

The most likely option is Rivers, who despite his turnover problems, at least had the Commodores moving in the right direction on several drives against Temple (yes, moving in the right direction counts as a measurement of success in this case).

"The bar for quarterback play right now would be tougher to limbo under than jump over."

Though he didn't start against Temple, Rivers ended up with 63 percent of the snaps, and it was Rivers, not Robinette, that was reinserted after the McCrary combustion.

"Based on what we saw Thursday, Rivers should be the guy," said Christian De'Andrea from over at Anchor of Gold, who was kind enough to lend his opinion for this piece. "He was the only QB to put together any semblance of a rhythm against Temple."

But even if Rivers does earn the start, it's likely we could end up seeing Robinette at some point in the game, especially if the offense struggles early. This is, after all, the guy that supposedly won the job over the summer and who only got six throws to prove himself in the opener.

These guys have to be head cases now, right?

The short answer is I don't know how they couldn't be. Not only did the confounding QB rotation make Mason and his staff look unprepared and panicked, but it surely damaged the confidence of their players. What kind of message does it send to Robinette to take his job after less than a half? How good can Rivers feel if he's given the start knowing he's already been benched once before?

Christian thinks it's a damaging practice.

I don't know if [the coaches] are in over their heads, but they certainly looked like they had no idea what to do with the quarterback carousel that was on display Thursday. It suggested a lack of confidence in this team's passers despite having three players who are all talented QBs. While I like the idea that players like McCrary are getting a shot, I don't see how facing an ultra-short leash is going to build confidence in a group that had very limited starting experience heading into the season.

What it means for the Rebel D

Meanwhile, an Ole Miss defense that tallied three sacks and four interceptions against Boise State is probably giddy. Vandy's quarterback problems were compounded by an offensive line that, according to Christian, "failed to keep Temple at bay and looked like a group of true freshmen rather than the veterans they are." Robert Nkemdiche and C.J. Johnson are a whole different sort of problem, so whoever's behind center may not get much time to throw.

The natural response to a shaky O-line and inexperience under center is a quick, short passing game meant to beat the rush and get the quarterback in rhythm. But the Ole Miss secondary showed a terrifying ability to fly up on quick passes against Boise and the return of athletic outside linebackers Serderius Bryant and Denzel Nkemdiche makes attacking the flats that much more difficult.

The good news for Vandy is that there's not much room to go anywhere but up. Here's Christian:

Ole Miss will be a much tougher test for Vanderbilt's quarterbacks, but I'm not sure things are going to get much worse. If one of our quarterbacks leads a scoring drive then that will count as "improved." The bar for QB play right now would be tougher to limbo under than jump over.

The Rebels have plenty of wrinkles to iron out on the offensive side, but Vandy's miserable quarterback situation could make for a big day on defense. Or Rivers could come out and drop a Kenny Hill stat line, because Ole Miss sports.