OXFORD • Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason sees growth in his graduate transfer quarterback, but is ready to see Riley Neal move on from baby steps.
There’s more in the tank, Mason believes, and he hopes Neal begins to show that Saturday night against Ole Miss.
Neal threw for 378 yards in the Commodores’ Week 2 loss at Purdue but hasn’t surpassed 206 passing yards in any of his other three starts.
“There’s been some incremental progress. He’s got to continue to work to get us into the right calls to make the plays when they’re there to be made,” Mason said. “I’m on Riley because I know he’s got more.”
Neal has shown glimpses of more such as his 38-yard flea flicker touchdown pass to Kalija Lipscomb late in the third quarter with Vanderbilt, nursing a 14-10 lead against Northern Illinois last Saturday.
“The coverage that we thought would be there, the look we got, that’s kind of what we anticipated. It worked out well,” Neal said.
There were other glimpses too, like Neal missing open tight end Jared Pinkney in the back of the end zone when the Commodores could have taken a three-possession lead early in the fourth quarter.
Instead they settled for a 28-yard field goal and a 24-10 advantage.
“With Riley, the throw to Pinkney, hey that’s got to hit the target. That’s what we do. This is the SEC,” Mason said. “He’s just got to continue to work on his footwork, the consistency of being able to deliver the ball accurately.”
While the Pinkney miss glared, Neal hit 21 of his other 27 passes against the Huskies, a team he competed against in the Mid-America Conference.
Penciled in as a four-year starter at Ball State, Neal averaged 217.4 yards per game passing for his career.
He threw for 7,393 yards with 46 touchdowns and 25 interceptions.
He missed nine games with injury in 2017 – gaining this season of eligibility with a medical redshirt – and missed three more in 2018.
At 6-foot-5, 220 pound, Neal has not shown himself to be a running threat.
Through four starts with Vanderbilt he’s completed 62.2 percent of 119 pass attempts for 858 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Commodores’ offensive line is giving up 2.50 sacks a game, ranking No. 93 in pass protection. Only South Carolina has allowed more in the SEC.
“I think I’m definitely more comfortable. Every practice, every game, every film session you grow a little bit more each time,” Neal said. “I’ve just got to look to keep doing that throughout the season.”