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Vanderbilt Commodores Preview

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As we learned last year, Missouri can never overlook Vanderbilt no matter how bad they are.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 21 Florida at Vanderbilt Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Missouri lost to Vanderbilt in 2019. I don’t think anyone here has forgotten that.

That was a full roster, mostly healthy, bad offense with an excellent defense. And they lost to a terrible Commodore team on the road.

Missouri is far from a full roster, is not fully healthy, and is a bad offense with an excellent defense. Luckily Vanderbilt also doesn’t have a full roster, is worse than they were last year, and will be coming to Columbia this time.

Oh, and Eli Drinkwitz is in charge of the team now. So there’s that.

My point is this: we love our Missouri Tigers and want them to win every game and think that they should always beat Kentucky and South Carolina and Vanderbilt. The reality is, however, that those teams can, and will, beat Missouri from time to time.

When I was writing last year’s preview I worked really hard at not overlooking what Vanderbilt could do to an uninterested Tiger team and, lo and behold, the Commodores prevailed. My hope is that this year - for the fans, for the team, for everyone - we all understand that Vanderbilt wants to win, too, and is totally capable of winning this game, despite however terrible we think they are.

And...yeah, they’re pretty bad. But they have been steadily improving over the past three games. Let’s take a look at the stats that will determine the ultimate winner on Saturday:

Missouri’s Key Stats vs. Vanderbilt’s Offense

Disrupt the Passing Game

Florida v Vanderbilt
Ken Seals
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Vanderbilt’s offense is not good, ranking 121st in the country, so “strengths” are all pretty relative. But Vanderbilt’s passing attack is 54th in the country which qualifies as good. It’s certainly better than their rushing attack which ranks 107th. Ken Seals is a true freshman quarterback who has been getting better as the season has gone on: 66% completion rate, 1,600+ yards, and while he has 9 interceptions to 10 touchdowns, 3 of those interceptions were against Mississippi State and he’s gone two straight games (Kentucky and Florida) without throwing a pick. They have the 23rd best completion rate in the country and while most of their passes only travel 7 yards in the air (111th in the country) they use the passing game to slowly move down the field and hope someone breaks a tackle every once in a while. It’s not the best strategy but it’s all they have at this point. Missouri will need to be jamming receivers and jumping lanes to eliminate the easy stuff and help the pass rush hit home a few times. If the Commodores have a passing success rate of 40% or less then their main chance at moving the ball will be erased.

Win on Third Down

Vanderbilt v Kentucky
Keyon Henry-Brooks
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Commodores are also pretty good at converting 3rd downs: 14th at converting 3rd-and-medium, 38th at converting 3rd-and-short. Vanderbilt gets leading rusher Keyon Henry-Brooks back as well as some other offensive weapons and should be the most complete they’ve been since the A&M game. With more weapons comes more options and it’ll be important for a thin defense to capitalize on 3rd-downs and get off the field quickly. I think a 3rd-down conversion rate of 40% or less should be good enough to keep Vandy’s offense at bay.

Missouri’s Key Stats vs. Vanderbilt’s Defense

Safety First!

NCAA Football: Missouri at South Carolina
Larry Rountree III
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt’s defense currently ranks 108th and is legitimately awful at everything: 118th rushing defense, 125th against the pass, 123rd on standard downs, 76th on passing downs, and their best player, Dimitri Moore, just opted out for the rest of the season. They play a pretty tight rotation, are not particularly havoc-y, and have only logged one interception for the entire year. So it’s important that Missouri doesn’t press for anything. Bazelak needs to make the right reads and be comfortable taking the easy stuff...because Vanderbilt tends to give a lot of easy stuff. Obviously the Tiger offensive line is a liability at this point and the receivers are incredibly thin so it’s important for Rountree, Badie, and Knox to be utilized in creative ways to keep the defense guessing. As long as Drinkwitz shakes off the funk of his second half performance against South Carolina, I’d want to see Missouri have a success rate over 45% to show that they can hold on to the ball and utilize 8-12 plays per possession to run clock, stay ahead of the chains, and keep the Commodore defense on the field.

Win on Passing Downs

NCAA Football: Missouri at South Carolina
Connor Bazelak
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

If Missouri does fall behind on down and distance they’ll run right into the teeth of the only strength Vanderbilt has: passing downs success rate. Granted, this “strength” is more like “the thing they’re not as bad at” but the Commodores are still holding opponents to a 33% success rate in 2nd-and-8+ and 3rd/4th-and-5+. Missouri should be able to stay out of passing downs for most of the game but, if they do, the Tigers should shoot to have a passing downs success rate over 30%.

Finish your dang drives

For the year, the Vanderbilt offense is averaging 16 points per game. However, over these past four games where they’ve started to put things together on offense, they’re averaging 22 points per game.

Missouri opponents are averaging 29 points per game but, against non-blue blood programs, Missouri opponents are averaging 18 points per game.

So, let’s do some very unscientific averaging here and say Vanderbilt scores 21 points. And let’s assume that Missouri will get it’s usual five scoring opportunities to get enough points to beat 21. So that means the Tigers will need those five scoring opportunities to produce at least 4.8 points per opportunity to score 24 and win this game. Do that please!

Conclusion

Missouri is not good enough to overlook any opponent, full stop. The talent gap between Missouri and Vanderbilt isn’t that far this year and the Tigers, at this point, are a little thinner than the Commodores are from a depth standpoint. Missouri does have a better coaching staff and gets to play at home but I just don’t see any game this year where Mizzou comes out and blasts any opponent for a lopsided, 15+ point victory.

I hesitate to put too much pressure on any game this season but if Drinkwitz loses this game it will take a way a lot of the good will he’s built up so far. Winning might not do much but the last thing these upperclassmen need is losing to the worst team in the country for two years in a row.

SP+ sees this as a 34-16 Missouri victory; I see it more as a 24-14 type victory. But, regardless, as long as the Tigers are 1-point better than Vandy, that’s all we really need.