The No. 23 ranked Missouri Tigers (4-0, 0-0 SEC) get set to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores (2-3, 0-1 SEC) on Saturday for their conference opener and their first true road game of the season. Mizzou is off to their best start since 2013, but they desperately need to take care of business against a team they should beat to keep the good vibes going.
Missouri enters this game as -13.5 favorites. Kick-off on Saturday in Nashville is set for 3:00 p.m. CST on the SEC Network.
To preview the game, we talked it over with Tom Stephenson from Vanderbilt’s SB Nation site Anchor of Gold.
Here’s the Q&A to get you ready.
Sammy Stava: After a 2-0 start to the season, Vanderbilt has lost three in a row, with their most damaging loss coming to Barry Odom’s UNLV Running Rebels. What has been the main issue for the Commodores during this losing streak?
Tom Stephenson: The short answer is — they keep giving the ball to the other team. Over the last three games, Vanderbilt has turned it over 10 times with those turnovers resulting in 51 points for the opposition — in three games they lost by a combined 36 points. And really, most of those points were truly “off turnovers” — Vanderbilt has seen four defensive touchdowns over the last three games (one each against Wake Forest and UNLV, and two against Kentucky) and five turnovers set the other team up with a short field (granted, Wake Forest missed a field goal after being gifted great field position or this could be even worse.)
SS: After going 5-7 (from a much improved 2-10 in 2021) last season in Clark Lea’s Year 2 – Vanderbilt was able to get a couple of SEC wins – beating Kentucky in Lexington and Florida in Nashville. Do you think this current Commodore team has what it takes to pull off some upsets in conference play?
TS: Yeah, so far this hasn’t looked like one of those Vanderbilt teams that’s overmatched from kickoff when SEC play hits. They pretty clearly have the ability to be competitive against most of the SEC schedule if they can stop digging themselves a hole early in the game. Whether they actually will pull off any upsets or not is a different matter, and that goes back to 1 — they’re not a team that can beat anybody in the SEC if they’re beating themselves.
SS: AJ Swann threw three interceptions last week against Kentucky and his status is now uncertain for this week with an arm strain. Due to his recent struggles and an injury issue – do you think Clark Lea should go with a quarterback change and start the backup Ken Seals?
TS: Lea was very noncommittal about Swann’s status at his weekly press conference, with a weird line about “pitch counts” that made it sound like they’re preparing to rest him on Saturday — probably using the injury as a pretext. Long term, though, Vanderbilt is pot-committed to Swann so they’re going to play him unless he can’t go or they’re worried about him being ineffective again.
Note: Here’s the latest update on AJ Swann’s status, per Aria Gerson:
Lea said Swann practiced some this week but was limited, and Ken Seals and Walter Taylor got the majority of the rest of the reps— Aria Gerson (@aria_gerson) September 28, 2023
SS: Other than the QB position, who are some players on Vanderbilt’s offense that could potentially pose a threat to Mizzou’s defense? On the defensive side for the Commodores, who has been making an impact?
TS: Vanderbilt does have some good receivers — Will Sheppard is the headliner, but true freshman London Humphreys is coming on strong as a deep threat and has gotten more involved in the passing game in recent weeks. On defense, CJ Taylor is always good for one or two big defensive plays a game, and true freshman corner Martel Hight has made an impact since moving into the starting lineup a couple of weeks ago.
SS: The last time Mizzou Football was ranked in the AP poll, they followed it up with a loss at Vanderbilt in 2019. What will the Commodores need to do on Saturday to pull off another upset over a ranked Tigers team?
TS: Honestly? If Vanderbilt simply doesn’t turn the ball over, they have a chance at winning this game. Whether they can avoid turnovers, of course, is an open question.
SS: Mizzou comes in at about a two-touchdown favorite. How do you see this game going on Saturday? Final score prediction?
TS: It’s amazing how quickly Vanderbilt fans have soured on this season. I’m predicting a 38-24 Missouri win with some really stupid stuff providing the final margin.