Vanderbilt hoping QB Kyle Shurmur picks up where he left off

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Kyle Shurmur is happy doing whatever it takes to help Vanderbilt win whether that is handing the ball off or throwing down the field.

The way the quarterback has grown this season, coach Derek Mason believes the best is yet to come.

''He wants to be great, he doesn't want to be good,'' Mason said Tuesday. ''He challenges himself every day. We talk about football, ball handling, every opportunity to create the balance that's needed as a leader of this group and being able to make sure he gets done the work he needs.''

Shurmur is getting extra work with Vanderbilt (6-6) preparing to play North Carolina State (6-6) on Monday in the Independence Bowl, and the timing couldn't be better. Shurmur did not throw for even 90 yards in two games this season and topped 150 yards only once through the Commodores' first eight games with Vandy leaning heavily on running back Ralph Webb.

Yet the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Shurmur could not have finished the season stronger.

Shurmur threw for 221 yards in a 23-16 loss at Auburn and only got better each game through the rest of the regular season. He threw for 273 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-17 win over Mississippi and finished with a career-high 416 yards and two TDs in an upset of No. 24 Tennessee that was the highest passing day at Vanderbilt since Chris Nickson threw for 446 in 2006.

He wound up throwing for 1,162 yards over the final four games - nearly half of his 2,251 yards for the season.

''Whatever we need to do to win the game, that's what I'm going to do,'' Shurmur said.

Shurmur got plenty of help from wide receivers catching the ball much better than they did in September and October. The Commodores put up 608 yards of total offense against Tennessee and their 45 points were the most scored in a Southeastern Conference came since 1971.

Mason said Shurmur is growing up and has faced new challenges each week. Vanderbilt coaches don't want to overload Shurmur as they work with him to master the nuances of playing quarterback, something Shurmur has embraced during these bowl practices.

''By the same token, he's still a sophomore,'' Mason said. ''He's still a guy that's got a lot of football in front of him. We just think that he's got a high ceiling with what we're going to try to do is hold him responsible for getting there.''

This will be the Commodores' first bowl game since the 2013 season, and Vanderbilt has won its last two bowl games. A victory would be the Commodores' third straight in a bowl and fifth overall while also ending the season with three straight victories.

Shurmur made it clear the Commodores are not underestimating anything about this game.

''We're going there to win,'' Shurmur said. ''We're not going to just be happy to be there.''

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More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

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