Coming off of their bye week, the Missouri Tigers (3-4, 0-3 SEC) desperately need a win on Saturday to try and get back to the .500 mark. They will certainly have a very good opportunity to do so as they take on the Vanderbilt Commodores (2-6, 0-4 SEC) on the road in a battle for sixth place in the SEC East.
Make no mistake about it, this is an absolute must-win for Missouri. Kick-off on Saturday is set for 2:00 p.m. CST on the SEC Network.
To get the Vanderbilt perspective, I talked it over with Tom Stephenson over at Anchor of Gold.
Sammy Stava: What were your first thoughts when Vanderbilt hired former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea as their next head coach? And even in a season with low expectations, what grade would you give him so far?
Tom Stephenson: I was fine with the hire given the candidate pool. Jamey Chadwell from Coastal Carolina was apparently considered and I’d have rather hired him, but I understand the logic behind going with Lea, who’s both an alum and had a good track record as a defensive coordinator. So far, I’d probably give him a C- even given the talent on hand, because while Vanderbilt lacks SEC-level athletes at a frightening number of spots on the field, it also feels like they’ve underperformed — I mean, even a team that lacks SEC-level athletes should still not be losing by three touchdowns to an FCS team or needing a last-second field goal to beat UConn.
SS: After a 23-3 season opening loss to FCS East Tennessee State, Vanderbilt has won two games (at Colorado State and home vs UConn), and almost pulled off an SEC road win at South Carolina. Does that have you encouraged for better things to come? Have you seen some improvements with this team?
TS: The Colorado State win was certainly encouraging, though it came thanks to CSU shooting itself in the foot multiple times. Honestly the near-miss at South Carolina was more encouraging than the UConn win. There have been some minor improvements, but the biggest issues with the team aren’t going to be addressed until Clark Lea can get on the recruiting trail and get better athletes into the program.
SS: It’s a match up one of the worst rushing defenses vs one of the worst rushing offenses in the country, so one’s got to give. Which unit do you believe will have a better game?
TS: I haven’t seen enough of Missouri this season to know what the specific issues are on that side of the ball. Vanderbilt’s issues in the run game started with the fact that the offensive line isn’t very good, something that became obvious when that unit got pushed around by East Tennessee State in the season opener, and were compounded when starting RB Re’Mahn Davis was lost for the season. Vanderbilt uses a two-headed running back rotation of sophomore Rocko Griffin and true freshman Patrick Smith, and neither has been terribly effective (though Smith in particular shows some upside.) So being totally uninformed about Missouri’s run defense, I would think that Vanderbilt will still have a tough time running the ball.
SS: How has backup QB Mike Wright performed after the injury to Ken Seals. Are you expecting Wright to get the start at QB on Saturday?
TS: Wright has shown a knack for some explosive plays both in the run and pass game in his two starts against South Carolina and Mississippi State, but the offense has otherwise struggled to move the ball against both opponents. Ken Seals has missed the last two games due to a finger injury and Clark Lea mentioned in his press conference last week that Seals is the starter as soon as he’s healthy, though they’re not going to rush him back. I really have no idea what Seals’ status is for this Saturday but I would expect him to be the starter if he’s recovered, though Wright will probably still see some action either way.
SS: Even though they probably shouldn’t be favored by this much, Mizzou opened as a 17 point favorite over Vanderbilt. How do you see this game playing out on Saturday? Have a final score prediction?
TS: Hoo boy. I hate picking against my team in this game, because Missouri has serious issues. I think the 17-point spread is ridiculous but I’m not confident enough in Vandy’s offense to pick them to actually win this game, so I will say Missouri wins 28-24.
(Yeah, let’s not lose to Vanderbilt on Saturday). M-I-Z!