Game Time: 7:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. CT
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Vanderbilt All-Access || Tiger Network
How to watch online: Watch ESPN
Odds: Missouri -8.5 || Over/under 66.5 (via OddsShark.com)
Remember when Vanderbilt fans “wanted Bama” that was a fun time to be a Commodores fan. The team had just beat a ranked Kansas State team to move to 3-0. Life was good and bowl eligibility seemed a guarantee with Western Kentucky and the SEC East on the schedule.
Life comes at you fast, though. After getting curb stomped by the Crimson Tide, the Commodores have self-destructed. The team has hung around in a few conference games, losing by 14 to Florida and seven to South Carolina. Vandy at least beat the aforementioned Western Kentucky to give itself a shot at bowl eligibility. It will take a pair of wins in the next couple of weeks to accomplish that, though.
Vanderbilt’s first hurdle, Missouri, could be considered the anti-Vandy. By that, I mean the Tigers got off to a horrendous start to the season and have since been playing out of their mind. The Commodores, of course, took the opposite approach. Although, Mizzou has managed to extend its great run longer than Vanderbilt, thanks to Alabama being absent from its schedule.
All kidding aside, the two programs truly show how important it is to play well at the right time. If Vanderbilt is unable to beat Missouri at home and Tennessee on the road—the former of which appears much more difficult, few people will remember the fantastic start. Those who do will recall it for the ludicrous assertion the Commodores belong on the same field as the Tide and the wasted opportunity to reach a bowl game.
For Mizzou, the season—should it conclude with wins over Vandy and Arkansas—will seem like a success. Forget for a minute that this team could have easily been the second best team in the East. Considering the atrocious state of the program when the team started 1-3, Barry Odom should be commended for turning things around when all hope seemed lost. Sure, it took a few more games before the wins arrived. But arrive they did with four consecutive ones racked up entering this week.
It’s the kind of turnaround Vanderbilt and Derek Mason haven’t been able to muster. However, they have one more chance to do it, and it starts this week.
Can Tigers continue rushing attack?
In last week’s 50-17 victory over Tennessee, Missouri rushed for 433 yards. Reread that sentence, and notice that it says “rushed.” The Tigers were playing without arguably their best running back, and they managed to put up 433 yards on 53 carries. That’s a whopping 8.2 yards per carry—conveniently double the 4.1 yards per carry average the Volunteers managed.
While everything that happens against a Tennessee program in shambles should be taken with a grain of salt, it still bodes well for Missouri to have the rushing attack performing this well. Ish Witter and Larry Rountree III complement each other perfectly. Against the Vols, Witter put up 216 yards, while Rountree added 155. Each scored one touchdown.
When the Tigers are running the ball like that, Drew Lock doesn’t need to do much. And that’s a good thing. He still struggles mightily at times. Last Saturday wasn’t his best performance by a long shot. He completed under 50 percent of his passes (13 for 28) for 217 yards and one really bad interception, which turned into a pick-six. Yes, Lock had another four touchdown passes, but it’s the success of Witter and Rountree that helps set that up.
A lot of talk recently has centered on the possibility of Lock leaving school early for the NFL draft. While his stats clearly can jump off the page, it’s hard to imagine—based on games like this—that a professional team would deem him worthy of a first-round selection. He’s had plenty of success during this winning streak. But a lot of that credit should go to a much-improved offensive line and a more potent running game.
For what it’s worth, Vanderbilt allows an average of 213.6 yards on the ground per game. If the Tigers know what’s best for them, they’ll exploit that early and often. Ideally, that will allow Lock to feel his way into the game.
Will Vandy offense give Mizzou fits?
Some will look at the past two wins for Missouri and suggest the defense is improving; others will see the performances against Florida and Tennessee as expected given the teams. Both opponents came to Columbia with coaching turmoil and quarterbacks set to start for the first time this season. That’s a recipe for any defense to look competent.
Vanderbilt will provide a considerably more accurate litmus test. The Commodores have a solid junior quarterback in Kyle Shurmur and senior running back Ralph Webb. Despite big numbers through most of his career, Webb has taken a backseat to Shurmur and the passing attack this season. That said, Webb should manage to do some damage against the Tigers, especially since Missouri will be preoccupied with Shurmur and his wide receivers.
When given the chance, the Vandy passing game has been able to exploit shaky defenses. That should worry a Missouri defense that has probably gotten a bit more confidence than it should have from its past few outings. Shurmur should have the ability and the weapons to put up points, particularly at home. If he avoids the turnovers, this game could delve into a shootout.
In a lot of ways, Mizzou would be just fine with that. It’s how this Tigers team was built: Give up a lot of points, but score a few more.
The biggest matchups will be the ones between the Commodores wide receivers and the Tigers defensive backs. Vandy’s top three targets all stand 6-foot-1 or shorter, meaning there won’t be a significant height advantage for the pass-catchers. Shurmur clearly distributes the ball evenly with those three receivers having each received between 54 and 57 targets.
Kalija Lipscomb lead the way with seven touchdowns, C.J. Duncan has a team-high 41 receptions and Trent Sherfield has the most yards (621) of the group. Vanderbilt will likely need all of them contributing to keep up with the Tigers.
So, what happens?
This has the makings of a shootout with two offenses who will give their opponent nightmares. However, it would seem the Tigers hold the advantage in almost every area.
Lock and Shurmur are similar quarterbacks, but Missouri’s signal-caller is clearly superior. The Tigers’ big three receivers all have more than 30 catches, 600 yards and five touchdowns. Vandy has their talented group, but it fails to match the big-play ability of Missouri.
The combination of Witter and Rountree also have a big advantage on Webb, and that’s where the difference in the game will likely come. Missouri’s rushing defense isn’t exactly stellar, but the versatility of Witter and Rountree should be enough to tip the scales.
It will give Missouri bowl eligibility with one game to spare—an almost unthinkable scenario a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt would officially see its chance to go bowling come to an end. It’s an unbelievable situation for two programs that started the season so differently.
Prediction: Missouri 45, Vanderbilt 27