Matchup Preview: Mizzou at Vanderbilt

The first seven weeks of Missouri’s season have not lived up to the preseason hype, with the Tigers starting 3-4 with losses in each of their first three games against SEC opponents. After a weekend off, Missouri should have a good opportunity to pick up that first league win this week when it travels to Vanderbilt.

The Commodores are also winless in SEC play, but Missouri should know from experience not to overlook them. Vanderbilt’s last win over a conference opponent came when it stunned Missouri 21-14 in 2019. Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said this week that the team’s last trip to Nashville would be brought up before the game, but not used as a primary source of motivation.

“You can learn from the past, but I don’t think it’s a motivational tactic moving forward,” he said. “Obviously it’s something you’ve got to learn from and understand that that did and can happen, but we’re not using that to motivate us to play a certain way.”

Here’s all the information you need to get set for the matchup between the Tigers and the Commodores.

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Eli Drinkwitz and Missouri will look to pick up their first SEC win of the season when the Tigers visit Vanderbilt this weekend. (D. Medley/USA Today)

Kickoff Information

Time: 2 p.m.

Location: Vanderbilt Stadium; Nashville, TN

TV: SEC Network (Taylor Zarzour, Matt Stinchcomb, Alyssa Lang)

Radio: Tiger Radio Network (Dave Neal, Deuce McAllister, Draya Carter)

Spread: Missouri -16.5

Series history: Missouri leads 8-4-1

Last Meeting: Missouri won 41-0 last season

By the Numbers

2021 Offensive Statistics

2021 Defensive Statistics

Mizzou Injury Report

* Questionable:

CB Kris Abrams-Draine

WR Barrett Banister

DL Akial Byers

CB Allie Green IV

C Michael Maietti

* Doubtful:

CB Ishmael Burdine

WR Chance Luper

DB Shawn Robinson

DE Johnny Walker

* Out:

WR Mookie Cooper

Inside the Matchups

When Missouri has the ball:

Missouri’s offense hasn’t been the team’s issue for much of the season, but in the Tigers’ past two SEC games, it hasn’t looked great. Quarterback Connor Bazelak threw a combined four interceptions and zero touchdowns against Tennessee and Texas A&M, while Missouri mustered less than 100 yards on the ground in both games.

After a week off, this should be a prime opportunity for the offense to get right. Vanderbilt’s defense has been woeful this season. The Commodores rank No. 120 out of 130 FBS teams in both scoring and total defense. Teams have pretty much been able to take their pick how they want to dice up Vanderbilt. Mississippi State threw for 463 yards in its 45-6 win over Vanderbilt a week ago, one of three teams to pass for 300-plus against the Commodores this season. Three opponents have also rushed for more than 200 yards in a game against Vandy, and six have topped 175 yards on the ground.

Look for Missouri to get star tailback Tyler Badie going on the ground early and use that to open up some passing lanes for Bazelak. Bazelak could use a confidence-boosting week — sort of like he got last season against Vanderbilt, when he completed 30 of 37 passes for 318 yards. The only concerns for Missouri will be protecting Bazelak with an offensive line that will be without its most experienced player, right guard Case Cook, for the rest of the season, and ball security. If the Tigers can avoid giving the ball away, they should be able to move it at will.

ADVANTAGE: Mizzou

When Vanderbilt has the ball:

This is the ultimate matchup between a stoppable force and a movable object. Vanderbilt ranks last in the nation in scoring offense and 124th in total offense. Missouri ranks 123rd in scoring defense and 126th in total defense. Something has to give.

The good news for Missouri is Vanderbilt has struggled to get much going on the ground this season. That has been the Tigers’ biggest weakness; they’re allowing 287.6 yards per game on the ground so far this year, second-worst in the nation. Vanderbilt is averaging less than 100 rushing yards per game on the year and mustered only nine yards on the ground last week. The Commodores lost starting running back Re’Mahn Davis to a season-ending injury during their third game of the season, and none of the ball-carriers who have replaced him have reached even four yards per carry. That said, Missouri has gotten gashed on the ground by everyone this season, so the Tiger defense still needs to prove it can clog running lanes before anything is assumed. Missouri will also likely need to keep an eye on quarterback Mike Wright in the rushing game. Wright is expected to make his third consecutive start in place of starting quarterback Ken Seals, who has been sidelined by a finger injury. White and Seals have put up similarly poor numbers as passers, but White at least brings a rushing threat, having gained 134 yards on the ground this season. The Tigers will need to be sure to account for him.

ADVANTAGE: Push

Special teams

Missouri remains elite in the kicking game. Kicker Harrison Mevis still has not missed an attempt of any kind this season, while kickoff specialist Sean Koetting leads the nation in touchbacks per game. Punter Grant McKinniss continues to be solid, averaging 43.2 yards per boot. The Tigers have shown explosiveness in the return game, getting a kickoff return touchdown from Kris Abrams-Draine against Tennessee, and have blocked a field goal this season.

Vanderbilt hasn’t been great in the return game. Wide receiver Cam Johnson has been respectable as a punt returner, averaging 8.0 yards per return, but aside from that, the Commodores rank among the bottom 20 teams nationally in kickoff return average, opponent kickoff return average and opponent punt return average. Alabama transfer Joseph Bulovas has done the kicking for Vanderbilt, and while he’s made all of his extra points on the year, he’s missed five of his 15 field goal attempts.

ADVANTAGE: Missouri

The Missouri run defense will look to bounce back after the bye and contain Vanderbilt’s struggling ground game. (USA Today Sports Images)

Missouri’s keys to the game

1. Slow down the run.

This will continue to lead the list of keys to the game every week, at least until Missouri demonstrates some ability to stop the run. This might be the easiest opportunity the Tigers have had to do so this season. As mentioned above, Vanderbilt’s season-long struggle to generate running room came to a head last week, when the Commodores gained just nine yards on the ground against Mississippi State. Yet, with its starting quarterback sidelined, rushing the ball is probably Vanderbilt’s best bet for offensive success this week. Missouri needs to limit the explosive rushing plays it has given up so often during the first seven weeks of the season and make Wright sustain drives with his arm.

2. Take care of the ball.

The one thing Vanderbilt’s struggling defense has done well this season is take the ball away from its opponents. The Commodores have 10 interceptions on the season, including eight across their past four games. They were able to play South Carolina close (the one league game they haven’t lost by 39 or more points) because the Gamecocks gave the ball away four times. Ball security has been a bit of an issue for Missouri of late, and particularly interceptions. Bazelak has thrown six picks in his last four games. He needs to take care of the ball Saturday. Missouri should be the more talented team, but if Bazelak and the offense give the ball away, it could create easy scoring opportunities and momentum for the home team and allow them to hang around.

3. Avoid a slow start.

A common theme across Missouri’s three SEC losses has been terrible opening quarters. Missouri trailed 14-0 early against Kentucky, 28-3 to Tennessee and 21-0 to Texas A&M. It was never able to close those gaps. Both Drinkwitz and his players have talked a lot about eradicating the slow starts and how that was a point of emphasis during the bye; now it’s time to show it. If the Tigers come out and establish an early lead, Vanderbilt might well lose interest.

WATCH — Opposition Research presented by Edward Jones: Vanderbilt

Numbers to Know

5: Power Five teams that have not defeated another Power Five opponent so far this season, including both Missouri and Vanderbilt.

144: Total margin of defeat for the Commodores across four SEC games this year.

171:25: Time Missouri has spent trailing across its first three SEC matchups, out of a possible 180 minutes.

10: Consecutive games in which Missouri has failed to cover the point spread at kickoff.

7: Rushes by Badie that have gained 30 or more yards this season, which leads the country.

61: Consecutive kicks made by Mevis since his last in-game miss, including both field goals and extra points.

PowerMizzou predictions

Gabe DeArmond: Missouri is not a good football team. Vanderbilt is a far less good football team. I understand the skepticism of Mizzou fans in this one because the last month hasn’t been easy, but Vandy is years away from competitiveness. That said, I refuse to pick Mizzou to cover until it actually, you know, covers. Mizzou 28, Vandy 16.

Mitchell Forde: This is not a game that Missouri can just show up and sleepwalk through and win by two touchdowns. … But it’s pretty close. The Tigers are at least only really bad on one side of the ball. Vanderbilt is awful at both. Barring a spree of turnovers, I think Mizzou takes care of business in this one. I have decided that Vanderbilt is the exception that proves the rule that Missouri cannot cover the spread; the last time the Tigers did so, it was against the Commodores last season, and I think they do so again in this one. Missouri 41, Vanderbilt 20.

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