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New faces and old names powered Missouri’s win over Vanderbilt

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

1. Hello, Ben Tesson

Mizzou has now officially had three kickers attempt PATs this year. That only happens to a small handful of teams each season, and the wheel stopped on Mizzou’s name in 2016.

After Tucker McCann’s nightmarish day (well, eight days, really), J’Mon Moore’s second touchdown catch of the day gave Mizzou a 25-17 lead. A PAT would make it a two-possession game, and with absolutely no confidence in McCann (or his 2016 backup to date, Turner Adams), Barry Odom turned to Ben Tesson to knock the ball through. He did.

From that point forward, Mizzou’s defense got to pin its ears back. The Tigers broke up two passes on Vandy’s ensuing three-and-out, sacked Vandy’s Kyle Shurmer and nearly picked off a pass on the next three-and-out, then sacked Shurmur twice on Vandy’s final drive.

It was a huge PAT, and it drew quite the sarcastic applause from the crowd. But we have a new name to get to know in the kicking department.

And by the way, if Tesson doesn’t work out either, allow me to suggest one more option. Granted, she wouldn’t be available in spring football until after Mizzou’s women’s basketball season is over...

2. Hello again, #DLineZou

Vandy’s offense had its moments on Saturday. The Commodores crossed 400 yards for just the second time in 2016, and it wasn’t simply because Mizzou’s tempo meant they had the ball a lot. They snapped the ball 73 times — a lot for them, but not a lot in general — and averaged 5.6 yards per play, their second-best average of the year.

So no, this defense’s problems are not all solved.

Still, Ralph Webb and Khari Blasingame combined to average just 3.9 yards per carry (speedy Darrius Sims did have rushes of 31 and 27 yards among his seven carries, but he was the third option). And if you’re going to give up plays, you might as well make some, too. Mizzou hadn’t been doing that.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Missouri
Kyle Shurmur after any of six sacks
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers took a step forward in that regard at South Carolina, then took another one on Saturday. Their havoc rate (tackles for loss + forced fumbles + passes defensed / total plays) was 21.9%, far better than their season rate of 14.4% (which ranked 92nd heading into this week). A lot of that came late in the game, when the Tigers had boosted their lead back to nine points, but it wasn’t all then.

This was encouraging. Both Tennessee’s and Arkansas’ offensive fronts are pretty glitchy, and while those teams are going to put together yards and points, havoc is key in forcing punts and turnovers. Do that enough, and you give yourself a chance to pull an upset.

3. Hello again, J’Mon

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Missouri
J’Mon Moore
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

“Funk” doesn’t really describe what J’Mon Moore had fallen into when the calendar flipped from September to October. Over his previous five games, he had caught just 13 of 33 passes for 171 yards, and a lot of those yards came against MTSU on a play that ended with a devastating fumble.

While Mizzou’s young receivers (particularly Dimetrios Mason) were taking turns stepping up and attempting to take the lead, the unit’s more seasoned pieces were struggling. Moore was mostly awful, and senior Chris Black fell out of favor and down the depth chart.

Moore was far from perfect on Saturday, dropping at least two passes and catching only eight of 14 overall. But among those eight were an 82-yard bomb that cracked Vandy’s defense open and a scrappy, physical four-yard touchdown that put the game away. His eight catches went for 138 yards.

Four games into the season, Moore was on pace for about 80 catches and 1,300 receiving yards. Now his pace is closer to 55 and 900. Still, this was a lovely game for him. Hopefully he’s got at least one more in the chamber.

4. Hello again, Johnathon Johnson

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

Missouri has quite a few exciting young slot receivers this year, but Johnson’s performance against Eastern Michigan (five catches for 115 yards, plus a punt return score) hinted at a monstrous ceiling for the redshirt freshman from Memphis. But he’s still a redshirt freshman, and at 5’10, 185, he still has to learn how to beat bigger, physical SEC defensive backs. He had only once caught more than two balls in a game since EMU, and ball security issues seemed to be giving him fewer opportunities in the punt return game.

On Saturday, an 18-yard Johnson punt return set Mizzou up with a short field and its first touchdown, and he had a 28-yarder that was called back by a holding penalty. Meanwhile, a 43-yard snare set Mizzou up in the third quarter. (Mizzou ended up losing a fumble at the Vandy 1, but that wasn’t Johnson’s fault.) He ended up with four catches for 73 yards and four punt returns for 47. That’ll play.

5. Hello again, win column

In Saturday night’s recap post, I said, “The win makes Missouri 3-7 for the season, but ... the record isn’t really all that important.” I stand by that for the most part, but it’s not quite right. I tend to think in terms of improvement and regression, not wins and losses (at least, not when Mizzou isn’t involved in a division title race), but it really was important to score a win at some point.

You didn’t want Barry Odom to have to wait until his second year to score his first SEC victory, and you didn’t want what was an increasing SEC losing streak weighing over the program either.

Three overall wins really isn’t that much more impressive than two, but it’s a weight off of everybody’s shoulders. That makes it valuable.