Know Your Enemy: Vanderbilt Commodores
Mizzou [4-0, 0-0 / AP: RV / Coaches: RV ] vs. Vanderbilt [3-2, 0-2 / AP: NR / Coaches: NR]
Sat., Sept. 21, 7 p.m. | TV: CSS (St. Louis-Charter Ch. 224; Columbia-KQFX; Kansas City-KCTV) | Vanderbilt Stadium (Nashville, TN)
Series History: Tied 2-2-1 (Last Meeting-2012)
The Missouri Tigers, healthy and undefeated, will travel to Nashville this Saturday to kick-off SEC play against the 3-2 Vanderbilt Commodores.
For Mizzou, this is, without a doubt, the biggest game of the season. After cruising through a cupcake non-conference schedule, the Tigers will look to legitimize their undefeated record on the road against a much-improved Vanderbilt team.
“Coach Franklin has done a great with job with that football program. He is really a heck of a football coach,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “They are a really disciplined defensive football team… On offense, their quarterback is very talented, very mobile…[and] they have one of the best wide receivers in the country. They will be a great challenge for us.”
This is an equally important game for the Commodores, who are 0-2 in conference play, but the conversation has shifted from Saturday’s game to coach James Franklin’s future with the program—which may be in jeopardy because of a new job opening at USC.
“My response is (I’m) really excited about talking about UAB, our last game; really excited about talking about Missouri this week,” Franklin responded when asked about the USC rumors. “I mean, for once I’d like to sit in this press conference and talk about either the game before or the game we’re playing this week. Anything outside of that is outside of our control. This is something that we’ve been going through for three years here, and that’s wonderful, but we’re focused on Missouri this week.”
Mizzou rallied from an early third quarter deficit against Arkansas State, out-scoring the Red Wolves 27-3 over the game’s final 20 minutes for a 41-19 victory. ASU quarterback Adam Kennedy torched the Missouri defense through the air, completing 37-of-46 passes for 318 yards (wide receivers J.D. McKissic and Julian Jones combined for 25 catches for 253 yards). The Tigers utilized a much more balanced attack, picking up 245 yards on the ground (Russell Hansbrough 8-96, Henry Josey 6-54 and Marcus Murphy 6-45) and 256 yards through the air—quarterback James Franklin threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns.
With the victory, Missouri improved to 4-0 entering conference play.
“It is a big confidence boost,” Franklin said. “If we would have not gone undefeated in non-conference play, it is not like it would have been terrible, but it gives us a little chip on our shoulder knowing that we are 4-0.”
While MU found itself in a dogfight, Vanderbilt coasted to a 52-24 triumph over UAB. Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels found the end zone twice through the air and once on the ground, while wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause caught a combined 12 passes for 223 yards and a score. The Vandy defense limited UAB to 4-of-15 on third down conversions and forced two turnovers.
“Defensively I thought we were so much more aggressive and that showed up in our open field tackling,” coach James Franklin said. “Same thing in the secondary, we played a lot of soft coverage, but we weren’t bailing out of there like we have done in some previous weeks. We were jumping on some routes and I think that helped us.”
The Commodores are 3-2 on the season, but are winless in SEC play—they hung tough against Ole Miss and on the road versus South Carolina, but were unable to pull the upset.
Three Commodores to Watch
Jordan Matthews is the best receiver in the SEC. Through five games, he caught 40 passes for 586 yards (that’s an average of 14.7 yards per reception for those of you keeping score at home) and four touchdowns. Despite his size, scouting reports suggest that he’s not as aggressive as one would expect when it comes to going up for the catch against opposing defenders. Once he catches the ball, Matthews is fast enough to get past defenders, which compensates for an inability to just make guys miss on his own. Beware the wide receiver screens with this one.
Vanderbilt’s standout offensive lineman can play any position, but the Commodores have him starting at left tackle this season. The former freshman All-American is slightly undersized, but he has the upper-body strength to contain his opponent. It should also be noted that he’ll be making his 44th-straight start this Saturday—and he’s played nearly every snap, too.
Andre Hal, a Second Team All-SEC pick last season, is among the team leaders with 22 tackles and has defended a team-high seven passes. While he hasn’t intercepted any passes this season, Hal has done well defending the opposition’s top receivers. His most notable performance came against Ole Miss, when he limited star receiver Donte Moncreif to just five catches for 56 yards.
Matchup to Watch
- The Commodores are pretty awful in three areas on defense: against the run, inside the red zone and getting stops on third down.
- Vanderbilt, like Mizzou, has struggled (at times) with protecting its quarterback, allowing an average of 1.8 sacks per game. While that number is slightly inflated due to the five sacks allowed against South Carolina in game three, the Commodores front line is beatable.
- On the topic of breaking through that offensive line, stopping the run will be imperative for Missouri, which may not be as difficult as one would expect. The Commodores average just 4.5 yards per carry, while the Tigers have limited their opponents to an average of 115 rushing yards per contest. Forcing Vandy to abandon the run early on will allow Dave Steckel and co. to focus on containing Jordan Matthews and Vandy’s vaunted receiving corps.
- Considering how the law firm of Josey, Hansbrough and Murphy has performed thus far this season, establishing the run early on should be no problem for Missouri, especially against a Vanderbilt defense that allows over 150 rushing yards per game (10th worst in the SEC).
Perhaps I’m overly optimistic, but I think Mizzou escapes Nashville with a victory. Mizzou by 3Brian Haenchen founded Hank’s Sports Blog in 2009. You can follow him on Twitter (@Brian_Haenchen) or email him (email@example.com).