A pair of SEC squads try for the third time to register their first conference win of the season, as the Missouri Tigers play host to the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday night.
Vanderbilt has gotten off to a slow start, losing conference bouts at home to South Carolina (17-13) and on the road to Georgia (48-3), as well as a road defeat to non-league foe Northwestern (23-13), with only a 58-0 win over FCS member Presbyterian keeping it from a winless start. The silver lining for the Commodores is that their strength of schedule has been brutal, as their three losses have come against teams that are a combined 15-0 to this point.
Missouri moved to 3-2 last week following a tough non-conference road win over UCF (21-16). The Tigers continue to show resiliency following losses, as they have won five straight games following a defeat, including two this season. They have been stellar at home over the past two seasons, winning seven of their last nine at Faurot Field.
With regard to the all-time series between these two clubs, Missouri leads, 2-1-1, although the newly-formed SEC rivals have not faced each other since 1958.
Vanderbilt has one of the league’s least productive offenses, putting up 21.8 ppg and 384 ypg. Those numbers have been skewed by a 58-point outburst against Presbyterian, as it has tallied just 29 combined points in its three losses.
Jordan Rodgers has limited his mistakes this season (one interception in 79 pass attempts), but he hasn’t made many big plays either, completing just 54.4 percent of his throws for 649 yards and two touchdowns. Austyn Carta-Samuels (14-of-22, 208 yards, TD) has been impressive in limited action, although most that production came in the win over Presbyterian filling in for an injured Rodgers.
Jordan Matthews (26 receptions, 395 yards, two TDs) and Chris Boyd (15 receptions, 285 yards) make up one of the most formidable receiving duos in the conference, and both are coming off 100-yard receiving performances against Georgia. Few other Commodores get involved in the passing game however, as nobody else has more than five catches.
Zac Stacy (341 yards, TD) and Brian Kimbrow (156 yards, TD) have each averaged more than seven yards per carry out of the backfield, and the team would benefit from giving both players more opportunities.
For much of the season, the Vandy defense has far outplayed the offense (22 ppg, 328 ypg), but it had no answer for the prolific Georgia offense in its last game, surrendering 48 points and 567 yards.
Kenny Ladler has a team-high 27 tackles despite missing one game and he also has a sack and an interception. Trey Wilson returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown against Presbyterian, and Karl Butler has five tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.
Coming from the high-scoring Big 12 to the defensive-minded SEC has caused Missouri’s offensive numbers to slip a bit, especially in terms of yardage (348.4 ypg, 13th in the conference), but it is still holding its own with a respectable 27.4 ppg.
James Franklin has not been as sharp as he was in his spectacular 2011 season, completing 61.8 percent of his passes (68-of-110) for 749 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He has also been battling injuries, which has given Corbin Berkstresser (33-of-54, 312 yards, two TDs, INT) some playing time.
Kendial Lawrence lines up in the backfield on nearly every play for the Tigers and he has piled up 395 yards and five touchdowns to go along with 10 catches for 81 yards.
Marcus Lucas leads the team in all receiving categories (26 receptions, 255 yards, two TDs), although T.J. Moe is hot on his heels with 22 catches for 201 yards and a score. Top recruit Dorial Green-Beckham (seven receptions, 167 yards) started his freshman year off slowly but has emerged as a big-play threat in recent weeks, hauling in an 80-yard touchdown catch against UCF.
Missouri’s defense has stepped up and kept opponents in check to the tune of 23.6 ppg and 333 ypg, its effort against the run (111.2 ypg) making it one of the top units in the conference.
The Tigers have been active in the turnover battle, ranking fifth nationally with 13 takeaways (nine fumble recoveries, four interceptions). They have also made 42 stops in the backfield, led by Will Ebner (seven TFL), Sheldon Richardson (five TFL, two sacks), and Brad Madison (4.5 TFL, three sacks).