Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines
A lightning strike delayed Saturday’s season-opening contest between Middle Tennessee State and Vanderbilt for 21 minutes, but the only real storm that was brewing was the anticipation of the third and final chapter of the Brent Stockstill and Kyle Shurmur rivalry.
The rival quarterbacks that are separated by only 37.3 miles are as much alike as they are different. Both guys are entering their fourth season as starters, both are sons of college or NFL coaches and both are re-writing their school’s record books. The differences between the two exist in the styles in which they play.
Shurmur is seen as a more polished, NFL-prototype pocket passes. Stockstill, however, has a tendency to roll out of the pocket and kill defenses with short, concise passes while proving his toughness by sacrificing his body for that extra yard.
Prior to Saturday night, the two have squared off twice — once in Nashville in 2016 and once in Murfreesboro in 2017. In the 2016 showdown, Stockstill out-dueled Shurmur from a statistical standpoint, throwing for 399 yards and three touchdowns compared to Shurmur’s 113 yards and one score. However, the Commodores managed to score and dominate in other ways to escape with a 47-24 victory.
2017 was a different story. Vanderbilt still won by double digits, but this time, it was Shurmur who filled up the stat book, throwing for 296 yards and three touchdowns while Stockstill struggled to find a rhythm, logging only 166 yards through the air in a 28-6 Vanderbilt victory.
Both of those early September match-ups conjured up excitement for Stockstill vs. Shurmur Part III. It could be said that it was an anti-climactic ending, where the final episode of the saga died quietly into the night.
The two seasoned, veteran signal callers threw for under 200 yards (178 for Stockstill and 170 for Shurmur), and both only combined for three touchdowns through the air. The game as a whole was a macrocosm of the individual quarterback duel as Vanderbilt beat the brakes off of Middle Tennessee in the second half, outscoring MT by 21 in those two quarters that culminated in a 35-7 Commodore victory in a contest that provided little to no drama.
Vanderbilt didn’t need Shurmur to light up the scoreboard or fill up the stat sheet in the first half. The Commodores took a 14-7 lead to the half following a scoop and score by the defense to give his team the lead early in the second quarter.
On the other hand, Middle Tennessee needed Stockstill to be perfect. Stockstill was 10/12 passing, throwing for 100 of his 178 yards in the first quarter. The lightning quick, short and rapid passing attack moved the Blue Raider offense down the field at ease. After a 16-yard swing pass to Tavares Thomas set up a four-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Windham, the game was knotted up at seven points each after the first quarter.
But that would be the extent of the offensive production from Stockstill’s offensive unit, and despite only throwing for 28 yards in the first half, the Vanderbilt counterpart threw for 93 on his first possession of the second half.
That possession set the tone for the rest of the contest as Shurmur threw for two scores in the second half that put the game out of reach. And just like that, the best in-state college football quarterback rivalry the state has seen in years was over.
Despite sweeping the Blue Raiders in the last three seasons, Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason is glad he doesn’t have to face Stockstill anymore.
“I’m tired of seeing Brent Stockstill,” Mason said with a chuckle after the game. “Coaches kids are special, especially when they play the quarterback position. These guys are extremely tough. They have a will to win that’s a little different than others. They want to put it on their shoulders, but they trust the other guys on offense … I’ve seen both of those guys grow up, and they’re both really good quarterbacks.”
On the other end, Stockstill admires the play of Shurmur and enjoyed a competitive player rivalry that not many players get to experience at the collegiate level.
“He’s a heck of a quarterback,” Stockstill said. “You can tell he’s a coach’s son, and those three wins in a row (against MTSU) are huge. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC. I’m a big fan of quarterbacks in general … The rest of the year, I’ll be rooting for him, and it was a pleasure to compete with him for three years.”
Many will consider Saturday night’s Stockstill vs. Shurmur finale to be a dud or a disappointment, but the bottom line is this: For the past three seasons, two schools less than 40 miles apart had two quarterbacks face off for three straight years. While they grew and developed, both turned themselves into two of the best players in the country at their position.
Football fans in the middle Tennessee region watched both of these guys flourish in front of their own eyes and build up very special careers, as well as add some spice and intrigue to the mid-state rivalry.
What these two have done for their respective programs is special, and the battles between them made for a good old-fashioned quarterback duel that football fans love to watch.
To contact Sports Editor David Chamberlain, email firstname.lastname@example.org.