Vanderbilt football has finally made it through the most brutal stretch of their schedule – three top 10 opponents in three games – and can now focus on more winnable contests that will ultimately define their season. First up is Missouri, as the Commodores travel to Columbia for a 3:00 kickoff Saturday with both teams seeking their first SEC win of the season. The Tigers also happen to be the last SEC opponent Vandy defeated in 2019 before the current conference losing streak.
Missouri comes into the game with a record of 2-4. They lost to Auburn in OT in a game they frankly should have won – an inexplicable ending you had to see to believe, and I’m sure many of you did. Their other two SEC defeats have also been within one score including a surprisingly competitive 26 to 22 loss to the Georgia team that just embarrassed Vandy.
Missouri is stronger on the defensive side of the ball than offensively. They surrender just 330.5 yards per game which is 24th in the country. They give up 24.7 points per game, which ranks 57th, but have given up more than 26 points only once this season – an early 40-12 blowout against Kansas State. They are 7th best in the country in third-down conversion percentage allowed at 27.7%.
Players to watch on defense include talented cornerback Kris Abrams-Draine, safety Jaylon Carlies, and Martez Manuel who plays the “Star” in their secondary. They also have an impressive defensive line full of seniors led by defensive ends Isaiah McGuire (who already has 3 sacks) and Trajan Jeffcoat. Linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper leads the team with 33 solo tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss.
As previously mentioned, Missouri has not been as impressive offensively. They rank 95th in the country averaging 25.2 points a game. QB Brady Cook has been inconsistent, completing 64.7% of his passes but just 5 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. His top target so far this season has been wideout Dominic Lovett with 31 catches, 499 yards and two touchdowns, followed by Ohio State transfer Mookie Cooper with 14 catches for 165 yards. The best pure talent on offense might be highly touted 5-star freshman receiver Luther Burden, who could have gone to any program in the country. Burden has been banged up this season but still has 18 catches, 114 yards and a touchdown as Tiger fans wait for him to truly break out any game now. Commodore fans are hoping it isn’t Saturday.
With the exception of the Georgia game, the Tigers have been able to run the ball fairly consistently this season. Their top back, Nathaniel Peat has 76 runs for 379 yards (5 per carry) and 2 touchdowns. Behind him is Cody Schrader is behind him with 54 attempts for 280 yards (5.2 per carry) and 4 touchdowns. Cook is also a threat to run, currently third on the team with 163 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns.
The Tigers’ kicker is Harrison Melvis, who has had an excellent career at Missouri but has been somewhat up and down this season. He missed a chip shot 26 yarder at the end of regulation against Auburn that would have won the game. The following week against Georgia he was his team’s star player hitting all five of his field goal attempts including a couple over 50 yards.
In their past three games against mighty Alabama, Ole Miss, and Georgia, the Commodores were outscored a ridiculous 162-31. Fans can say Vandy will finally have a comparable opponent this weekend – and indeed the general consensus is that Missouri and Vandy rank 13th and 14th in the conference – and yet the Tigers are still favored by 14 in this game. Not only is there clearly a huge canyon between Vandy and the SEC’s elite (which we already knew), but now there is a perception that the gulf between the Commodores and the other “dregs” of the conference is still a whopping two touchdowns. Frankly, that’s embarrassing, and I hope the players are feeling that embarrassment. Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea and his program could make a huge statement in ending the SEC losing streak and climbing out of the SEC basement with a win.