This game features two basement-dwellers in the SEC East, but there’s more at stake than meets the eye. Vanderbilt (4-5, 1-4 SEC) comes off of a very close loss against No. 8 Auburn, with only two more wins necessary for bowl eligibility. In fact, the Commodores have had a very real chance to win every game since Week 3’s debacle against Georgia Tech, with every game since being decided by seven points or fewer. Derek Mason has a chance to take this team to its first bowl game under his tenure and a win over Missouri would go a long way toward making that happen.
Meanwhile, The Tigers (2-7, 0-5) are looking for some hope under rookie head coach Barry Odom. The team is on a five-game losing skid and has yet to win an SEC game. Odom, who took over after Gary Pinkel retired due to health issues, has had a difficult time getting his team to move forward. If Missouri can pull out a win against Vanderbilt, things will be looking up in Columbia.
Missouri leads the all-time series record 4-3-1, and had won the first two SEC matchups between the teams before Vanderbilt ground out a 10-3 victory last October.
Vanderbilt at Missouri
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 12 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Missouri -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Missouri’s Defense
Missouri hasn’t had a problem putting up points in the last several games, but its defense has been so porous that it’s been impossible to keep up with the opposition. Over the last five games the Tigers have given up just a shade under 40 points per contest. The defense ranks last in the SEC and is 116th in the FBS in yards allowed per game. A big problem for Mizzou has been third down, allowing opponents to convert nearly 44 percent of the time. An inability to get off the field means a tired defense that is more susceptible to giving up scores. Missouri also has had difficulty getting after the quarterback, recording only 15 sacks so far. Junior defensive lineman Charles Harris leads the team with 5.5 but is receiving little help from his teammates.
Vanderbilt doesn’t have a particularly potent offense, but it has proven capable of putting up points when it needs to. Missouri needs to get those third down stops in order to compete in this game.
2. Kyle Shurmur
Vanderbilt has spent years looking for someone to be the answer at quarterback. Shurmur may not blow away fans, but he’s brought a consistency to the position that has been lacking ever since Derek Mason took over the team. Last week the sophomore recorded his highest completion percentage of the season (66.7 percent) on a career-high 36 pass attempts. Despite playing with a dearth of talent at the offensive line and wide receiver positions, Shurmur has been an effective game manager for the Commodores, throwing only seven interceptions in the 14 collegiate games he has played.
After two efficient weeks, look to see if Shurmur can continue his growth and find success against a weak Missouri defense. A strong performance by Shurmur would give Vanderbilt a lot of confidence going into its final games against Ole Miss and Tennessee.
3. Zach Cunningham
If there’s one thing for Vanderbilt fans to be proud of, it’s the play of their star linebacker this season. Cunningham is being projected to go in the first round of the NFL Draft come spring and he’s been one of the best players in college football this year. He’s averaging more than 10 tackles per game, with his season high coming in the form of a 19-tackle performance against Georgia. In that upset victory for the Commodores, Cunningham flew across the field to make a crucial stop on fourth down.
You may have recently heard his name because he was involved in one of the most exciting plays of the week, hurdling over Auburn’s long snapper to block a short field goal and give the Commodores one more shot to tie the game up. His combination of athleticism and instincts have made him indispensable to Vanderbilt’s defense – last year the team struggled in his absence due to injury – and Mason has argued this week that he should be the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Keep an eye out for No. 41 on the field this weekend, although he probably won’t be too hard to find.
Vanderbilt comes into this game riding high. It lost last week, but to a top-10 team in the final minute. Three weeks before, the Commodores knocked off a ranked divisional opponent. Missouri, on the other hand, is on a five-game skid that it does not seem ready to shake off. Drew Lock threw for more than 300 yards last weekend, but tossed two picks and did not have a strong completion percentage. Missouri may have a better chance in this game because of Vanderbilt’s low-scoring tendencies, but the Tigers’ defensive miscues should open up the game for Commodores QB Kyle Shurmur and RB Ralph Webb. Vanderbilt should come out of Columbia with a win.