As 2020 continues to throw various curveballs at the college football season, the SEC has remained determined to complete each member's 10-game schedule. What was set to be the Battle Line Rivalry showdown between Missouri and Arkansas has been rescheduled (COVID-19), and the in-state meeting between Tennessee and Vanderbilt also has been postponed. On short notice, the new game for players, coaches and fans to prepare for is the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Missouri Tigers squaring off in Columbia on Saturday, making up a lost date from Oct. 17.
Vanderbilt's winless record (0-7) may dictate one opinion of the team's play on the field this season, but a deeper look might suggest something else. A three-game twist up with LSU, South Carolina and Ole Miss aside, the Commodores have been a competitive team this season, with three games decided by one score. Fresh off frustrating No. 6 Florida for three quarters before falling 38-17, Vandy has some momentum. The irritation point for Vandy is pairing a solid offensive outing with a comparative effort on defense to secure a victory.
After a three-week layoff, Missouri (3-3) took the field against South Carolina in Williams-Brice Stadium and came away with a 17-10 win last weekend. An aspect to first-year head coach Eliah Drinkwitz’s troubles arose against the Gamecocks again in the form of an inconsistent offense. The Tigers had more yards punting (305) than yards gained (301) against South Carolina. The defense did its part, holding USC scoreless in the first half and fending off a late rally attempt.
Vanderbilt at Missouri
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Vanderbilt -1
When Vanderbilt Has the Ball
One bright spot for the future during the 2020 season has been the development of true freshman quarterback Ken Seals. After a slow start to the season, Seals has topped the 300-yard mark in four of the last five games and is coming off a 319-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Gators. Mixing the good and the bad, Seals is completing passes at a high level — 66.5 percent for the season — but is showing growing pains, throwing a pick in five of the seven games played (nine interceptions total).
Adding some cachet to Seals' accomplishments has been the lack of a rushing attack for Vanderbilt. With 374 net yards and two scores, Keyon Henry-Brooks leads a group that is in the bottom tier of the FBS ranks; the Commodores are averaging 120.7 rushing yards per game. Vanderbilt's production on the ground plays into Missouri's comfort zone, as the Tigers are holding the opposition to 128.3 yards per game.
An area where Seals can drive defenses crazy is with his target selections. Against Florida he hit seven different players, connecting with go-to receiver Cam Johnson seven times for 96 yards, while Chris Pierce Jr. hauled in four passes covering 97 yards with two touchdowns. If Missouri has a weakness on defense, it is against the pass. Teams are throwing for 247.8 per contest, and that includes games against less pass-happy squads like Tennessee, Kentucky and South Carolina. The Tigers were able to hold a crumbling Gamecocks offense to 283 total yards.
When Missouri Has the Ball
The offensive stats between Vanderbilt and Missouri similarly align. Playing in one fewer games, Connor Bazelak is only 306 yards behind Seals in the passing yards department. Bazelak is finding passing success at a 68 percent rate with a 5/2 touchdown/interception ratio. The freshman gunslinger had a season-high 406 yards with four touchdowns against LSU but has averaged just over 200 yards in the last three with only one touchdown to show for the effort.
With teams containing Bazelak, tailback Larry Rountree III has been carrying a heavy load with holes narrowing. The senior is averaging 20 totes per game with a season-high 37 against Kentucky. After back-to-back 100-yard games against LSU and Kentucky, Rountree has been held to a total of 94 yards with two scores in the last two showings. Trying to stretch defenses are six reliable targets for Bazelak, with Jalen Knox leading the way. Knox has a team-high 24 receptions for 243 yards but has yet to score. Tyler Badie and Tauskie Dove are tied for the team lead with two receiving touchdowns.
Like Missouri's defense, Vanderbilt's weakness has been against the pass. The Commodores are allowing 280 passing yards per game with 19 total touchdowns given up. VU's defense has not been opportunistic, with just one interception on the season.
Schedule to schedule, the Tigers appear to have the leg up on their visitors. But Missouri has 13 players deemed questionable for Saturday for various reasons, including marquee players like defensive lineman Markell Utsey, backup quarterback Shawn Robinson, buck end Sci Martin Jr., starting left guard Xavier Delgado, backup corner Ishmael Burdine, and starting right tackle Larry Borom. Until kickoff, the status of who plays and who sits will not be fully known.
The Tigers have won three of the last four meetings with Vanderbilt, taking the home victory a year ago 21-14. It is tough to win on the road in the SEC. If Missouri has a meaningful portion of its regular squad available, the Tigers will pull above .500 on Saturday.
Prediction: Missouri 28, Vanderbilt 21
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— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.