The Missouri Tigers (2-4, 0-3 SEC) get set to host the Vanderbilt Commodores (3-4, 0-3 SEC) for Mizzou’s Homecoming game to start the second half of the regular season. Make no mistake about it, this is obviously an absolute MUST-win game for Eli Drinkwitz against a team that has lost 24 consecutive SEC games.
Kick-off on Saturday is set for 3:00 p.m. CST on SEC Network with Dave Neal (play-by-play), Duece McAllister (analyst) and Andraya Carter (sideline reporter) on the call.
To get the Vanderbilt perspective, we talked it over with Tom Stephenson for Vandy’s SB Nation site Anchor of Gold. Here’s the Q and A to preview the game:
Sammy Stava: The Commodores have a tough rebuild ahead of them especially in the best conference in college football, but do you think Clark Lea is the right guy for this job and has what it takes to get Vanderbilt to respectability/relevancy? Has there been signs of progress for the program since Lea took over?
Tom Stephenson: I think the only way I can answer at this time is “I haven’t seen anything to convince me otherwise.” Or, at least, if this doesn’t work it’s probably not on Clark Lea. There seems to be a plan there, the program feels like it’s a lot more organized from top to bottom than it was during the Derek Mason era, and if it doesn’t work the culprit is probably more Vanderbilt’s foot-dragging on NIL than it is on Lea, because it’s simply not on the head coach if the roster he’s building starts getting raided because guys think they can get more NIL money elsewhere. There have been slow signs of progress — last year’s team, for instance, definitely doesn’t beat Northern Illinois or lead Ole Miss at the half, and even in a 55-0 loss to Georgia last weekend the team looked a lot less helpless than it did last year.
SS: After what was a promising 3-1 start to the season, Vanderbilt has lost three in a row to start SEC play, being outscored a combined 162-31. Having said that, it was a brutal schedule against Alabama, Ole Miss, and Georgia. So, other than the obvious step up in elite competition, what has gone wrong for the Commodores in those games?
TS: Basically, they can’t defend the pass to save their lives, and outside of a couple of bad interceptions that Jaxson Dart threw, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Georgia all moved the ball at will on the defense. The offense actually probably would have come up with a few points against Georgia if the receivers had been able to hold on to the ball. But, yeah, giving up 50 points three games in a row isn’t a great look for the defense.
SS: Through six games, Vanderbilt freshman QB AJ Swann is 81-133 (60.9 completion percentage) for 953 passing yards with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. How would you grade/evaluate his performance so far this season?
TS: I’m honestly surprised that he’s the starter already — granted, I thought he would be taking over at some point this season, but I had also thought it would be sometime around, well, this week as opposed to getting thrown to the wolves over the previous three games. I’m impressed but especially since those numbers have come with three of the four starts coming against Alabama, Ole Miss, and Georgia.
SS: Besides the QB, who are some of the other players on offense and defense that have made impacts this season Mizzou fans will need to keep an eye on?
TS: On offense, Vanderbilt has a couple of good wide receivers in Will Sheppard, who’s a traditional big speedy wideout (though one with a bit of a drops problem) on the outside and Jayden McGowan, a state high school track champion who got overlooked because he’s generously listed at 5’8”. Ray Davis handles the workload in the backfield and is mostly just a guy who’s good for a consistent 4-5 yards.
On defense? You’ll hear Anfernee Orji’s name a lot because he’s the team’s leading tackler, and Vanderbilt does have a couple of emerging true freshman edge rushers in B.J. Diakite and Darren Agu. Kind of a consistent theme with Vanderbilt this season is that a lot of the players I’m most excited about are true freshmen.
SS: Mizzou comes in as a 14-point favorite. How do you see this game playing out on Saturday? Have a final score prediction?
TS: If I pick Vanderbilt to win, we always lose in my experience; therefore, I’m predicting Missouri to win 24-21.
Good stuff from Tom. His score prediction may be too close to comfort for Mizzou fans. You can follow Anchor of Gold on Twitter for all things Vanderbilt coverage.