Well, it’s that time of year again.
Yes, the annual engagement to figure out if Missouri is a better football team than the worst SEC football team. A joy, every year, I tell ya.
Here’s the preview I did on Vanderbilt this spring. After starting the first two games, incumbent quarterback Mike Wright was usurped by blue-chip freshman phenom A.J. Swan ... who has only led the ‘Dores to a single victory over Northern Illinois. Granted, a freshman quarterback going up against Alabama, Ole Miss, and Georgia is hardly a recipe for victory, but Swann has had a total baptism by fire and is now staring down Missouri’s vaunted defense.
I’m sure you’ve heard it multiple times by now, but it bears repeating: Vanderbilt has lost 24-straight SEC games dating back to October 19th, 2019... when they beat Missouri in Nashville. It would be a wise choice for Eli Drinkwitz to not lose to this improving - but still bad - Commodores squad on Homecoming. But, hey! It’s at home! So it’s totally a game that Missouri can win!
Here are the keys to the game:
When Missouri Has the Ball
This will be the worst defense Missouri has faced since Louisiana Tech (yes, Abilene Christian’s defense is better than both Vandy and LaTech). If you ever wanted to see this offense at even a whisper of its maximum power, it should happen on Saturday. But will it? Man... I don’t even know anymore. But here’s how they could do it.
Passing Success Rate
For all of its woes, the Vanderbilt defense is actually pretty stout against the run, ranking 58th in rushing success rate. Their weaknesses all stem from a passing defense that ranks 128th in the nation and, as a reminder, there are 131 FBS teams right now. I know Brady Cook isn’t the greatest passer in the world, and I know Burden/Banister/Lovett/pretty much the entire receiving corps is banged up right now. But the Commodores’ secondary will let you do almost anything you want and that should be the best way to move the ball. Cook managed a success rate over 50% against a better Florida defense (and Bazelak only achieved that level of success against SEMO!) and he should be able to do the same here: look for a passing success rate over 50%.
This is the only “reliable” way that Missouri moves the ball and, even then, explosive plays are notoriously unreliable. You know what helps? Going against a defense that ranks 84th in rushing explosiveness and 119th in passing explosiveness. Yeah, that should make everyone feel super good. I’d expect at least 9 explosive plays.
Finish your dang drives
I love our beautiful Thiccer, but if he finishes with more field goal attempts than extra point tries again I’m going to start pulling out my hair. Vandy is an okay Red Zone defense but ranks 129th (again, out of 131!) in points per scoring opportunity with 4.98. Score touchdowns, my dudes! I’d like to see at least 6 scoring opportunities created with at least 4.5 points per opportunity.
When Vanderbilt Has the Ball
Vandy’s offense is the stronger unit on the team and still ranks 79th in the country. That is laughable for a P5 program until you realize that Mizzou’s offense is barely ahead of them at 72nd. Yikes! But hey, at least Missouri’s defense is good. Legitimately good. Like, 28th in the country good. Let’s hope they all show up and do work on Saturday.
Standard Downs Success Rates
With a freshman quarterback and a decent offensive line, the Commodores are quite content to unleash a flurry of unsuccessful running plays and hope one breaks big or throw a predictable pass in passing downs situations and hopes that it turns into an explosive play. Sound like any other offense you might be familiar with? The difference, however, is that Vanderbilt averages a 50% success rate on Standard Downs and has a good track record of barely scraping along with the chains. Mizzou’s defense needs to make sure that duct-tape-and-toothpick approach is wiped out quickly. Look for the Tigers to force Vanderbilt into a 45% or less success rate in standard down situations.
Minimize Explosive Plays
This Missouri defense will blow up plays somewhere in the range of 26-30% of the time but also is prone to giving up six or seven big plays per game. I’m not asking Missouri to give up zero, just to limit the amount of times it happens. Five explosive plays is a manageable number here, especially since the Tigers usually give up big gains on the ground and Vandy is more prone to striking through the air.
Do you want to salvage your season? Would you like to play in a bowl game? Would you like to keep the idea of this team improving? If so, it would be in this staff’s best interest to win this game since - with an 82% win expectancy - this is statistically one of only two games left that the Tigers can win. If you lose, the season can unravel in a hurry and then the plan shifts to “show off how talented the youth are!”. As much as I’d like to see the younger guys play, I like wins and bowl games better. Don’t lost to Vanderbilt, please!