Missouri remains undefeated with a 38-21 victory over Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee. The Tigers move to 1-0 in the SEC East and one of three undefeated teams in the conference along with Georgia and Kentucky.
The Tigers’ efficient passing attack shined once again, showcasing the improvement under the oversight of Kirby Moore. Heading into the game, we knew that Missouri’s wide receiver room was also improved, with one of the reasons being the addition of Theo Wease, whose play supported that claim Saturday afternoon against Vanderbilt, while firmly establishing himself as the #2 wide receiver.
A former 5-star recruit out of Allen, TX, the former Oklahoma transfer play contributed to Missouri taking a 10-point lead into the locker room. Following an electric 23-yard gain by no other than Luther Burden III, another key component for the Tigers during the game, Brady Cook then keyed in on his chemistry with Wease.
After motioning across the formation at the Commodore 31-yard line, Cook hit Wease on a quick curl route. The Vanderbilt defensive back tried to wrap up the 6-foot-2, 192-pound receiver, but Wease spun out of it for a 19-yard gain. On the ensuing play, Cook, standing calm and collected in the pocket, hit Wease again for eight yards, but unfortunately, Wease got rattled up on the play, forcing him to come out.
The injury bug couldn’t stop him from producing one of his best performances in his collegiate career as two plays later, Cook hit Wease on a back-shoulder fade towards the left corner of the end zone from 10 yards out with 55 seconds to play in the half, which put Missouri up 17-7 going into the locker room.
TOUCHDOWN, Tigers! Brady Cook to Theo Wease Jr for the score! pic.twitter.com/Ojo3ai5SUL— Mizzou Football (@MizzouFootball) September 30, 2023
Wease finished the evening with 118 yards on 10 receptions. Only his 123-yard performance Texas Tech in 2022 was better in his five years of collegiate play.
“I told him like last night, like dude you're going to go for 100 (yards) this game, so I already know,” Burden said. “So, we already had that conversation and it’s just reality now.”
Wease presence for the Tigers has brought a boost for the team both on and off the field that has been a huge factor in the wide receiver’s room ascendence.
“He’s got a maturity level to him, the way he practices, the way he conducts himself, the way he holds that wide receiver room, I think he’s glue guy, but he’s an elite player too,” Eli Drinkwitz said. “We like Theo’s matchup every game, he’s a tough cover.”
On its first offensive possessions, a pair of third down conversions moved Missouri inside Vanderbilt’s 10-yard line. The first test came on a 3rd and 9, as Brady Cook bravely stood in the pocket under pressure before finding no one other than Burden for a 27-yard gain across midfield.
While Wease led the Tigers in receiving through the first half, the Commodores defense still had to worry about No. 3 as he collected 140 yards on 11 receptions. This makes it back-to-back game where Burden recorded double-digit catches as he registered 10 for 177 yards against Memphis last week.
“It’s (the offense) is definitely just slower for me,” Burden said. “My coaches put me in the right position at the right time and the offensive line does a great job in protecting Brady, and you know, (Brady) trusting me and giving me great balls.”
Seven plays later, after matriculating the ball downfield in short chunks, Cook found Wease on a similar back-shoulder throw on 3rd and 12 to the Vanderbilt eight-yard line. The drive stalled from there as Harrison Mevis knocked in a 24-yard field goal to give the Tigers an early three-point lead.
Mistakes in the Tigers’ secondary allowed Vanderbilt to respond quickly. A penalty on Joseph Charleston moved the Commodores to their own 43-yard yard line. Following Jayden McGowan successfully reaching the perimeter of the defense on a jet-sweep for a first down, Charleston took a bad angle on Quincy Skinner Jr., allowing him to pick a first.
On the next play, Skinner picked up 22 yards, moving Vanderbilt inside the Tigers 10-yard line. Two plays later, Ken Seals became the first player to score a rushing touchdown on the Tigers by taking it in on a read option from six yards out giving Vanderbilt a 7-3 lead.
Missouri responded with the efficient right arm of Cook and his arsenal of receivers. Wease again made his presence picked up a chunk gain of 23 yards, while Burden, Mookie Cookie, and Brett Norfleet, who returned from injury, all recorded catches as Cook went seven of eight on the drive.
The Tigers eventually reached the Commodores’ one-yard line, where Cody Schrader outraced everyone to the left corner of the end zone putting Missouri back up 10-7 early in the second quarter.
Both offenses stalled throughout much of the second quarter until MU extended its lead to ten shortly before the break. A relatively healthy secondary limited the Commodores passing attack that was nowhere to be found in the first half.
A key block by Wease on the first play of the second half allowed Burden to take the ball across midfield. That play ironically moved Burden in front of Wease with 98 yards compared to his 94. The drive was capped off seven plays later as Cook floated a beautiful pass to Burden for an 18-yard score, extending the lead to 17 on 3rd and 5.
oh no while you weren’t watching the best receiver in the country just scored again— CFBTalkDaily (@CFBTalkDaily) September 30, 2023
Luther Burden is SERIOUS pic.twitter.com/NFkN5nHRLH
It was Missouri’s fourth third-down conversion of the game at that point. The Tigers went six of 11 on third downs after going 0-8 against Memphis in St. Louis last week.
“Obviously a much better job executing, and I think defensively they were two for 10, so improvement there on both sides of the ball,” Drinkwitz said.
Vanderbilt attempted to find some sense of momentum late in the third quarter. Seals, starting in place of an injured AJ Swann, desperately found Sedrick Alexander on third down with pressure in his face. Swann’s heroics quickly turned him into a villain in the eyes of Commodores fans as he was then picked by Kris Abrams-Draine in the end zone, his third consecutive game with a pick.
The Commodores shook of the interception on their ensuing drive after a Missouri punt. Following a 29-yard gain by Will Sheppard, Swann shook off the interception by hitting the Commodores top receiver from 31 yards out to bring Vandy within 10.
Wease went over 100 yards receiving on the ensuing drive, making it the first time since Oct. 20, 2018 where the Tigers had a pair of 100-yard receivers in the same game where Albert Okwuegbunam and Jalen Knox both went over that total in a 65-33 win.
Wease’s catch in part helped Cook throw his third touchdown of the game. On a 2nd and 20 later in the drive, Cook lofted a beautiful rainbow pass with the speedster Marquis Johnson running underneath it for a 44-yard score.
“It's so hard to overthrow him,” Cook said. “I know if I just throw it as far as I can he’s going to run under and catch it...he’s a great target, obviously downfield, and last week we saw it. It opened up one underneath for Luther, he was wide open and its continuing to show up, so he just needs to keep doing his thing.”
This was the third week in a row where Johnson made a deep catch as he hauled in one against Kansas State, another for a score against Memphis and now his second collegiate touchdown over Vanderbilt.
“It’s (the offense) is slowing down for him to as well,” Burden said. “It’s just him being him. Just let him run and good things happen.”
As for Cook, he finished with a phenomenal day, going 33-41, for 395 yards and four scores. He made SEC history as he set the conference record with most consecutive completions without an interception with 326 surpassing Kentucky’s Andre Woodson.
“I saw a tweet or something about it like yesterday or the day before and I was like ah damn, well, hopefully not this game,” Cook said. “But, yeah, that’s cool. I think interceptions are a part of the game. Obviously, I’ll probably throw an interception this year, so I’m not too worried about it. I’m just trying to do the best I can.”
Ironically, his last interception came against Vanderbilt in last season’s narrow victory over the Commodores. But now Cook is putting together an All-SEC caliber type of play. He reached the 80% mark passing for the second week in a row and hasn’t had a game where he’s completed less than 65% of his passes.
“I told the defense all offseason I’m going to have your back this year. And I feel like we’re doing it so its special,” Cook said.
With Vanderbilt played catchup by responding with a 45-yard score from Seals to Junior Sherrill who got behind the Tigers secondary.
Missouri’s defense finally got their much-needed stop with under six minutes to play as Austin Firestone collected the first sack for MU on fourth down. Burden then proceeded to put the game on ice with his second score on a 17-yard fade route sealing the final score of 38-21.
In all the Tigers tallied 532 total yards against Vanderbilt. While 395 came through the air, 137 was engineered through the ground game as Nathaniel Peat led the way with 71 yards with Cody Schrader following behind with 60 yards of his own. While the offensive output is quite surprising to some on the outside, its shocking to no one at all in the locker room.
“I’m not surprised,” Burden said. “It’s expected.”
Missouri returns home for an 11 am kickoff against LSU next Saturday. We all remember what happened the last time LSU came to Columbia.