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Missouri starts strong, hangs on to edge Vanderbilt

A strong first half from Luther Burden carried the day for the Tigers, as the offense disappeared in the second half and some miscues allowed the Commodores to climb back into the game.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Homecoming weekend in Columbia brought the Vanderbilt Commodores to town. Mizzou, fresh off a bye week, was searching for their first SEC victory of the season when they took on a Vandy squad that was in search of the same thing.

After the front half of the season was characterized by close losses, the Tigers flipped the script and won a close game for the first time, 17-14.

“A team like us, who had lost 3 in difficult fashion, to be put in that situation again and to find a way to win shows steps,” Eliah Drinkwitz said.

The biggest storyline for the Tigers today was the return of Kris Abrams-Draine. After missing the Florida game, the potential 2023 NFL draft pick had five tackles and three pass breakups. He jumps off the screen when watching him play, and he will continue to rise up draft boards if he continues to play like this. He was all over the field in especiallythe first half of this game.

The Tiger offense, on the other hand, got out to a roller coaster of a start. Brady Cook led a 6-play, 75-yard drive to open the game that was capped off by Luther Burden breaking multiple tackles for a 35-yard touchdown. Burden had a career-high in yards (66) and catches (4), as the offensive staff clearly wanted to get him the ball in this game.

After the opening drive, however, the offense hit a wall. The run game struggled in the first half, and a poor decision by Cook led to an interception that set the Commodores up in plus territory. Luckily, the Tiger defense stood tall and prevented Vandy from capitalizing on the turnover.

After going stagnant for a couple of drives, the Tiger offense again put together a solid drive. Cook found Tauskie Dove on a deep crossing route for a gain of 46-yards, and Burden ran a reverse in a for a touchdown by the goal line with 12:19 left in the second quarter.

“Every time I get the ball, that’s all I think. End zone,” Burden said.

The defense managed to pitch a first-half shutout, and it was in large part thanks to the play of the secondary. Joseph Charleston, Jaylon Carlies and Abrams-Draine each had great plays tackling in the open field and in coverage. Carlies saved the shutout with an interception in the end zone with under a minutes left in the half.

The defense also only allowed 24 rushing yards in the half, forcing Vanderbilt freshman quarterback AJ Swann to throw the ball 27 times in the first half alone.

Cook executed a great two-minute drill in half the time, peppering the ball down the field to set Harrison Mevis up for a 38-yard field goal. The Tigers led 17-0 at halftime after largely dominating this game in every facet.

The Commodore defense provided a spark for the team in the second half. They lit up Cook and recovered a fumble for a touchdown at the 8:07 mark of the third quarter, and it came thanks to CJ Taylor hurdling Cody Schrader and recovering the fumble. Heavy pressure off of the right side caught the Missouri offensive line off-guard.

“That’s just a great play by that kid, you can’t stop that,” Schrader said. “I met up with him after the game and told him we’d be on ESPN.”

Then, things got weird. The ensuing kickoff bounced straight off the ground and back towards the pursuing Commodores. They recovered the kick, but missed a 27-yard field goal a couple plays later, keeping the score at 17-7 with 6:12 left in the third quarter.

The Mizzou offense failed to gain any sort of ground in the second half, allowing Vandy to claw their way back into the game. A screen pass from Mike Wright (entered for Swann in the third quarter) to Gamarion Carter went for 83-yards to cut the Tiger lead to three with four minutes left in the game.

The Commodores had a chance to tie this game late, but the Tiger defense stepped up and got a stop on fourth-and-1 to end the game.

It was another iffy day for this offense. Cook had some great throws, and then some that were head-scratchers. Burden got involved in the first half, but he largely disappeared in the second. The run game, outside of some success from Schrader, could not find much room to operate, and Dominic Lovett had the lowest yards he’s had yet this season (12). The team also lost the turnover battle 4-to-1. Yet again, people will be questioning the offensive personnel and play-calling this week.

“I’m sure we’ll watch the tape tomorrow and be disgusted with everything, but I’m not going to be disgusted with lighting the dome tonight,” Drinkwitz said.

The secondary played at an All-SEC level today (outside of the late scene pass). From coverage to tackling, this unit really made life difficult for a true freshman quarterback on the road. Expect to hear Abrams-Draine, Charleston, and Carlies talked about more in the coming weeks, as they really flashed their skills.

“In the secondary, we trust each other,” Carlies said. “We know where everybody is going to be at and we feed off of each other.”

Missouri will travel to the other Columbia to take on South Carolina (4-2) for the Mayor’s Cup next Saturday. You can catch the game at 3:00 p.m. CST on the SEC Network.