The Vanderbilt Commodores (4-6, 0-6 SEC) will host the Missouri Tigers (5-5, 2-4 SEC) on Saturday night in a matchup between two SECEast teams clearly headed in opposite directions. Barry Odom’s Tigers have now won four games in a row, highlighted by last Saturday’s 50-17 blowout victory over Tennessee. Even more impressive is the 37-point margin of victory Missouri has averaged during its current winning streak. If the Tigers can keep things rolling, Missouri will become bowl eligible for the first time since the 2014 season.
Derek Mason’s Commodores will need a monumental turnaround in their final two games to secure eligibility for the postseason, but that isn’t unprecedented for this team. Vanderbilt managed to close out its 2016 campaign under similar circumstances with unlikely victories over Ole Miss and Tennessee, garnering an invite to the Independence Bowl. However, it might be a tall order to repeat that feat again this season. The Commodores are coming off a bad 44-21 loss at home to Kentucky, marking their sixth defeat in the last seven games. They also remain winless in conference play heading into their final two “must-win” matchups of the season.
Missouri holds a 5-3-1 edge over Vanderbilt in the all-time series, winning three of the last four contests, including a 26-17 affair last season in Columbia. However, the Commodores did outlast Mizzou by a final score of 10-3 the last time the Tigers came to Nashville. It’s safe to say that there will be a lot more points on the scoreboard this time around.
Missouri at Vanderbilt
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Missouri – 8.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Ground game > passing game for the Tigers?
Drew Lock (above, right) usually grabs the Sunday morning headlines. But it was the Mizzou ground attack that stole the show last week, routinely punishing a generous Tennessee run defense, racking up 433 rushing yards in the process. The one-two punch of Ish Witter and Larry Rountree III led the way, combining for 371 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on the night.
There’s a good chance that you will see Missouri’s high-powered passing attack take a back seat to the ground game again this week. Like Tennessee last week, Missouri will be facing a defense that has been solid against the pass and abysmal against the run. In fact, Vanderbilt has been one of the worst teams in the nation (No. 115 in the FBS) when it comes to stopping the run, surrendering 213.6 rushing yards per game. The Commodores also have allowed the fifth-most rushing touchdowns (28) in the FBS.
While it would be a stretch for the Tigers to match last week’s monster performance on the ground, this matchup does bode extremely well for an emerging Missouri run game that has accounted for 1,018 yards and nine touchdowns over the last four weeks alone.
2. The Missouri passing attack
The run game may end up leading the way for the Missouri offense against Vanderbilt, but the Tigers are still capable of inflicting some serious damage through the air. Lock currently leads the SEC in passing yards (3,012). He has at least three touchdown passes in each of his last six games and leads the nation with 35 TD passes. Star wideouts J’Mon Moore and Emanuel Hall have combined for 1,485 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns, both ranking among the SEC’s top five. And there may not be a deadlier passing attack in all of college football when it comes to the deep ball. The Tigers have 14 pass completions of 50 yards or more on the season.
The Commodores have been stout against the pass this season, allowing just 191.7 passing yards per game (No. 28 in the FBS), but they will certainly have their hands full against the Tigers on Saturday. The Missouri passing attack should be able to feed off the run game, finding success of its own with the deep ball off play-action.
3. Vanderbilt offense vs. Missouri defense
Despite the presence of Ralph Webb, who just surpassed the legendary Emmitt Smith for 10th on the SEC’s all-time rushing list, Vanderbilt's ground game continues to struggle mightily. The Commodores rank dead last in the SEC in terms of rushing yards and are one of just four FBS teams to average fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground. And while a matchup against Missouri’s 80th-ranked run defense holds some degree of promise, the Commodores are much more likely to turn to Kyle Shurmur and the passing game against a suspect Tigers’ secondary, particularly if Vanderbilt falls behind early.
Shurmur should be able to take advantage of a Missouri pass defense that ranks second-to-last in the conference, allowing 248 yards per game. But it probably won’t be a cakewalk without some help from Webb and the run game. Shurmur threw for 308 yards last week but tossed a season-high four interceptions. He threw just three picks in the first nine games of the season combined. He also was sacked a season-high five times last week, which is worrisome against a Missouri pass rush, led by Marcell Frazier and Terry Beckner Jr., that has accumulated 16 sacks over the last four weeks alone. Regardless, Vanderbilt's best avenue for success in this matchup will come via the passing game. Side note — Shurmur needs just one touchdown pass on Saturday to tie Whit Taylor’s single-season school record with 22.
They say timing is everything, and the Commodores probably couldn’t have picked a worse time to face the surging Tigers. Missouri is averaging 54 points per game over the last four weeks. Vanderbilt gave up 41 points in the first three quarters alone last week to a Kentucky team that had been averaging just 26 points per game. There’s also the matter of a much-improved Mizzou defense. The Tigers have allowed just 16.5 points per game during their current four-game winning streak.
The upset-minded Commodores will surely be fired up at home for Senior Night. But that won’t be nearly enough for them to keep pace with the red-hot Tigers on the scoreboard. Missouri should easily come away with its fifth consecutive win in convincing fashion.
Prediction: Missouri 52, Vanderbilt 28
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.