NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Vanderbilt Commodores hope quarterback Kyle Shurmur can finish like he started this season. A replay of his performance a year ago against Tennessee would be even better.
In that game, Shurmur threw for a career-high 416 yards as the Commodores routed Tennessee 45-34 for their third win in five seasons over their in-state rival.
“That game did a lot for his confidence,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said.
It sure did.
Shurmur, whose father Pat is offensive coordinator with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, worked with a private throwing coach during the offseason and also went to the Manning passing camp. He’s been the biggest offensive threat for Vanderbilt (4-7, 0-7) going into Saturday’s game at Tennessee (4-7, 0-7) ranked in the top 10 of the Southeastern Conference in several categories.
He’s second in touchdown passes (22), needing only one to take the school record to himself and break a tie with Whit Taylor who set the mark in 1982. Shurmur ranks 25th in the nation in TD passes, and he also ranks second in the SEC with 2,540 yards passing and with 230.9 yards passing per game.
Shurmur started this season very strong, nearly matching the nine TDs he threw all of last season with eight through three games. He went six games with only one pass intercepted — by top-ranked Alabama — and helped cover for a struggling run game ranked dead last in the SEC and 127th out of 129 FBS teams.
Over the past four games, he is averaging 303.3 yards passing over the past four games, including a season-high 348 yards in last week’s 45-17 loss to Missouri.
Tennessee linebacker Colton Jumper remembers Shurmur getting lots of help from his teammates in the run game last year but says he sees a really good quarterback in the Vanderbilt junior.
“He started out the season really hot,” Jumper said. “I think his QBR in the first few games was something crazy. He’s a good game manager, spreads the ball around and he did a really good job against us last year, too.”
But Shurmur, who hadn’t been intercepted more than once through the first nine games, has struggled in his last two games. Kentucky picked off four passes and sacked him five times , while Missouri grabbed three of his passes while sacking Shurmur twice .
“Like any quarterback, you’re going to go through ebbs and flows, highs and lows,” Mason said. “But as a quarterback in this conference, you have to fight it. You have to fight off and (stave) off the rust, the poor decision-making and really leading your team. You got to take care of the football.”
Mason wants Shurmur just to manage the game and not try to do too much.
“What I want him to do is just deliver the ball, feel comfortable in the pocket, manage the series, get us from where we are to where we need to be and put the ball in the end zone and just keep it that simple,” Mason said.
Tennessee interim head coach Brady Hoke called Shurmur a very good quarterback.
“I think he’s a smart quarterback,” Hoke said Wednesday. “I don’t want to use the word ‘manage,’ but he’s very efficient with what they want to do, and then I think the timing that he has with his receivers.”
With the Vikings playing at Detroit on Thursday, Shurmur’s father will have a chance to watch his son with little distraction Saturday.
“Fortunately, all his games are on TV so I get an opportunity to see him,” Pat Shurmur said recently. “I certainly watch his games through his dad’s eyes sometimes, and then I also watch it through a coach’s eyes. So I’m rooting for him. The important thing for me is he’s out there competing.”
AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell and AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee contributed to this report.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker