The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Three Matchups to Watch: Vanderbilt vs Missouri

After one of the toughest three game stretches imaginable, the Commodores will look to get back into the win column against a familiar SEC foe.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Patrick Smith rushes against Missouri in Vanderbilt’s loss on Oct. 31, 2021. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Let’s not spend too much time on last week. In fact, let’s not spend too much time on the past three games. The Commodores were faced with the toughest stretch of their schedule over the last month, facing a trio of top-10 teams in the form of Alabama, Ole Miss and Georgia. Ole Miss is perhaps the only game where there is truly a moral victory that Vanderbilt can take away, as they impressively and unexpectedly took a lead at halftime before falling back to Earth in the final 30 minutes of action. 

There’s really nothing to take away from Georgia at the present moment—the Commodores played against a fantastic team loaded with future impact players in the NFL. The positive from this game—and the rest of the season so far—is that Vanderbilt continues to see how the best teams in the nation operate for 60 minutes. Turning around this program, as Clark Lea knows very well, isn’t about just understanding how his team can be the best they can possibly be, but how this program can eventually rise to the likes of the ones built down in Athens or Tuscaloosa. 

After going through a portion of the season where they were perhaps searching for moral victories more than anything else, Vanderbilt finds themselves with two winnable games on their schedule. The first of these games will be a road tilt against Missouri. The Tigers sit at a measly 2-4, but have notably lost all of their last three games against Auburn, Georgia and Florida by one score. 

What has stood out most about Vanderbilt from Lea’s first to second year so far has been the team’s ability to take care of business when they are expected to. This battle against Missouri certainly wouldn’t fall under the classification of ‘expected,’ as the Commodores have opened up in Las Vegas as 14 point underdogs, but it is a game that many would expect this maturing Vanderbilt roster to compete in. 

Vanderbilt will also be tasked with taking on ranked Kentucky and Tennessee later in the season, so it is imperative that they take advantage of the opportunity now to build on a win total that has already surpassed the last two seasons combined.

This week, The Hustler analyzes what needs to happen for Vanderbilt to get back in the win column against a pesky Tiger team.

Vanderbilt’s rushing attack vs. Missouri’s run defense

The Commodores have made a commitment to the running game. Essentially, as the running game goes, Vanderbilt’s offense goes. Ray Davis is fifth in the SEC in rushing, at 536 yards. When the Commodores can get the run game going, they don’t always win, but they compete. Remaining relevant is at the forefront this week after a largely uncompetitive start to SEC play for this program. 

On the other side of the football, it’s anyone’s guess how Missouri’s run defense will show up in this game. The Tigers looked stout in their first five games of the season when it came to the run: there were minimal gaps in the front four and the secondary swarmed any player who dared to find one. The team had only allowed a 100 yard rusher once on the season. It was a different story down in the Swamp, as the Tigers allowed 236 yards on the ground to the Gators and were seemingly always gashed by the run game when they needed to stop it the most. Florida has 4 carries of 40 or more yards and 2 carries of 15 or more yards. Not only were the Tigers giving up yards, but they were giving them up in droves.

The question headed into this one is whether this swiss cheese defensive strategy adopted by the Tigers is an anomaly or the norm. Compared to Florida, Vanderbilt doesn’t have the type of offensive line that will create huge holes in a front four that is usually strong. If, though, Missouri’s defense is reeling and has not used the bye to properly regroup from what was a tough night in Gainesville, Vanderbilt and Davis could take advantage, get rolling early and never look back.

Missouri vs. the rule book

The Tigers have been eliciting the dropping of laundry by the referees all over the field this season, causing flags to fly at an alarming rate. On the season, Missouri averages 66.20 penalty yards per game while their opponents average half of that total, at 33.80. So far, the Tigers have committed a total of 40 penalties for 331 yards. Their opponents have combined for just 23 penalties, only resulting in 169 yards. 

Against Florida, Missouri committed six penalties. This was a season low for the team, which truly highlights just how often this program has been drawing whistles this year. 

With that performance, the Tigers ensured that for another week, they remain one of only three Power Five teams that have committed six or more penalties in every game this season. Interestingly, all three teams reside in the SEC. The other two teams, though, are Alabama and Tennessee, who have a lot more offensive firepower that allow their programs to overcome their struggles with the rule book. Penalties can be covered up by wins, but when discussing a team that has lost their last 3 games by a combined 14 points, flags flying on the field could very well be the difference between victory and defeat.

It’s up to the Commodores to force the issue in this game, especially on the line of scrimmage, in hopes that the Tigers continue to shoot themselves in the foot. If the Commodores can get the flags flying once again for Missouri, they very well could leave Columbia with a win.

Brady Cook vs. getting in a rhythm

Sophomore Brady Cook has shown flashes of impressive football under center. He has looked poised to take the next step in some of Missouri’s big games. When Cook gets rolling, he elevates his game to a level that makes him look like he could truly be an impact quarterback in the FBS. When something goes wrong, though, it is a different story.

As the great boxer Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth.” When things go wrong for Cook, it seems to have a spiral effect on both him and the entire offensive unit, leading to unnecessary mistakes for the Tigers. 

Against the Gators, Cook started off hot: he completed his first 8 passes, racked up 63 yards and delivered passes to 5 different Tiger receivers. On the Tigers’ third drive of the game, Cook was punched in the mouth—proverbially, of course—as a slant he threw over the middle was intercepted and taken to the house by defensive back Jaydon Hill. 

After that, Cook was simply not as sharp. Trailing in the game, Cook tried to force the ball into a window that simply wasn’t there. Hill again intercepted him, this time in the red zone, and propelled the Gators to a 24-17 victory.

If Cook comes out firing and can stay on his game, it could be a long day for this Commodore defense. If Anfernee Orji and Co. can deliver a demoralizing blow to Cook early, though, they may be able to open up the floodgates and capitalize on more of Cook’s mistakes as the game progresses.

The Commodores will hope that their more disciplined approach on the gridiron will lead to the turnaround game that they need this weekend. Vanderbilt and Missouri will kickoff at 3 p.m. CDT on Saturday, Oct. 22, at Faurot Field in Columbia.

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About the Contributor
Jonah Barbin
Jonah Barbin, Sports Podcast Producer
Jonah Barbin (‘25) is majoring in human and organizational development and cinema and media studies. In addition to writing about sports, you can catch him acting, scouring the fantasy football waiver wire, playing golf and fantasizing about what Odell Beckham Jr.’s career would have been if the Giants never traded him. You can reach him at [email protected].
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