On Saturday (6:00 P.M., FSN), the Missouri Tigers (3-2, 0-2) play host to the Vanderbilt Commodores (1-3, 0-2) in SEC Eastern Division action. This is the first meeting between Vanderbilt and Missouri since 1958. The Commodores have lost to South Carolina and Georgia, the same two teams that Missouri has lost to, and are coming off of a bye week.
Vanderbilt Head Coach James Franklin used the bye week to get a head start on preparing his team for Missouri, but the Commodores also split practice time between game preparation for the Tigers and practice time, including scrimmaging, for freshmen and others players who are seeing little or no playing time this year.
"It is the best freshman class with which I've ever been associated," Coach Franklin said of his current freshman class at Vanderbilt.
The Vanderbilt staff was also out on the road recruiting for next year.
Thus far this season, Vanderbilt has played an extremely difficult schedule, similar to the one that Missouri has played, among the toughest schedules in the country. Vanderbilt has fared much better at home, where the Commodores opened the season with a 13-17 loss to South Carolina, and blew out Presbyterian by a 58-0 score. On the road, Vanderbilt fell 13-24 at Northwestern, before getting blasted in a 3-48 loss at Georgia.
The Commodores have averaged just under 10 points/game against their three FBS opponents. And this week, Coach Franklin expressed concern over his team's ineffectiveness in the red zone, where the Commodores rank #102 in the NCAA in red zone offense efficiency.
In the face of Vanderbilt's offensive struggles, Coach Franklin has refused to name a starting QB for this week's game at Missouri. Fifth-year senior Jordan Rodgers 6'1" 212 has been the Commodores' starter this season. He is 43-79-1 (55%) for 649 yards and 2 TDs passing (129.26 passer efficiency rating). His back-up, junior Austyn Carta-Samuels 6'0" 222 is 14-22-0 (63.6%) for 208 yards and 1 TD passing (158.05). Neither QB has put up tremendous rushing stats, but each of them are mobile enough to be considered a dual threat. Earlier this week, Coach Franklin was asked if Jordan Rodgers will start at Missouri?
Coach Franklin replied, "If he practices well, yes."
On the surface, it would appear that Vanderbilt has been effective running the football. The Commodores have a pair of TBs in senior Zac Stacy 5'9" 210 and freshman Brian Kimbrow 5'8" 180, each of whom are averaging more than 7 yards/carry this season. But for each of them, over half of their rushing yards this season came against Presbyterian, and their rushing averages against Vanderbilt's three FBS opponents are 4.4 yards/carry and 3.2 yards/carry respectively.
Vanderbilt's leading receiver is junior Jordan Mathews 6'3" 205, and he's a good one. Through four games, he has 26 receptions on the season for 395 yards (15.2 yards/reception) and 2 TDs. Sophomore WR Chris Boyd is another very productive receiver who has 15 receptions for 285 yards (19 yards/reception).
Vanderbilt's offensive line is a veteran group that averages 6'5" 290 across the front. And, while the Commodores are not an offensive juggernaut, they do have some offensive weapons, particularly Mathews and Stacy. Coach Franklin talked about the difference between this year's Commodores and last year's.
"Offensively, the biggest difference is points," explained Coach Franklin. "But if you look at how we're running and throwing, it's very similar to last year. I'm not saying this year is good enough, I'm not saying last year's good enough. But it's very similar. The offense had more opportunities last year because we were able to get turnovers in bunches."
"I think it's a combination of the competition we've played and execution," continued Coach Franklin. "We just have to keep sticking to our plans, giving kids the chance to be successful and execute consistently. That's what we're not doing, we're not executing consistently."
Defensively, Vanderbilt is not unlike Missouri. Missouri is doing a better job against the run, and from a statistical standpoint, Vanderbilt is doing a better job against the pass. Missouri is doing a lot better job in forcing turnovers. The Commodores are playing a lot of players on defense, including many young players in back-up roles.
"They're very good," said Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel, referring to the Vanderbilt defense. "They're very well-coached. And, they play a lot of players, and they're all good."
The Commodores' leading tackler is junior safety Kenny Ladler 6'1" 200, who has 27 total tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU, and 1 INT. He's joined in the secondary by junior safety Javon Marshall 5'10" 195 (24 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FF), senior CB Trey Wilson 5'11" 192 (11 tackles, 3 PBUs, 1 INT), who had a 100-yard interception return against Presbyterian, and junior CB Andre Hall 6'0" 184 (9 tackles, 2 PBUs), who is also one of the Commodores' kickoff returners.
Earlier this week, Coach Franklin indicated that Vanderbilt lacks the kind of depth at LB that he'd like to have. Still, the Commodores' starting LBs are getting the job done. Junior MLB Chase Garnham 6'3" 234 (27 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 QBH), senior OLB Archibald Barnes 6'4" 235 (21 tackles, 2 PBUs, 1 FF), and junior OLB Karl Butler 6'1" 215 (17 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 1 FF, 1 fumble recovery) are productive, and are backed up by freshmen and red-shirt freshmen. Butler is Vanderbilt's "star LB", which is what they call their hybrid LB/DB. At times, they also utilize back-up senior safety, Eric Samuels 6'0" 200 (15 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1 sack) as a nickel back in passing situations.
It'll be interesting to see how Vanderbilt schemes to defend Missouri.
According to Vanderbilt junior offensive tackle Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt's defensive line is similar to Missouri's. One noticeable similarity is the size of the players in Vanderbilt's four-man defensive front.
Fifth-year senior DE Johnell Thomas 6'0" 250 is the Commodores' most productive defensive lineman, with 13 tackles, including 2 TFLs, and 1 PBU. Junior DE Walker May 6' 5" 250 (11 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 QBH) and freshman DE Caleb Azibuke 6'4" 250 (8 tackles, 2 sacks) provide the pass rush up front, although in reality Vanderbilt utilizes a variety of blitzes to put pressure on the QB. In fact, they blitz a lot, and from just about everywhere.
"They're a pressure team," said Missouri Offensive Coordinator David Yost earlier this week, speaking of Vanderbilt's various blitz packages. "They're going to bring pressure (probably) half the time."
Coach Franklin said that controlling the line of scrimmage is very important. And, he said that winning the line of scrimmage will be a challenge for his team this week.
"That's where games are won in this league, is on the O-line and D-line," said Coach Franklin. "This league is a line league. And I think everybody talks about that, but until you've actually been in this league and been through it, you don't really understand the significance of it."
Comparative Statistics [NCAA Ranking in Brackets]
MISSOURI____________________VANDERBILT 348.40 [98th]___ Total Offense___ 384.00 [82nd] 137.40 [85th]___Rushing Offense__ 169.75 [57th] 7____________TDs Rushing___________ 5 211.00 [85th]___Passing Offense_ _ 214.25 [79th] 123.87 [84th]__ Passing Efficiency__ 135.50 [62nd] 6____________TDs Passing___________ 3 27.40 [65th]____Scoring Offense__ 21.75 [103rd] 333.00 [30th]___ Total Defense___ 328.00 [28th] 111.20 [26th]__ Rushing Defense__ 186.25 [91st] 6_________ TDs Allowed Rushing_________ 9 221.80 [55th]___Passing Defense___ 141.75 [8th] 136.53 [83rd]__ Pass Effic. Defense_ 111.01 [29th] 9_________ TDs Allowed Passing_________ 2 23.60 [59th]____Scoring Defense__ 22.00 [T-46th] +1.40 [14th]__ Turnover Margin____0.00 [64th] 11 / 3_ ______ Fumbles/Lost_______ 10 / 3 3_________ Interceptions Thrown_________ 1 4_________ Interceptions Gained_________ 2 23.85 [36th]___Kickoff Return Avg._ _ 23.76 [37th] 23.21 [4th]____ Punt Return Avg.____6.00 [85th] 35.52 [88th]___ Net Punting Avg.___ 40.20 [27th] 2.60 [T-31st]______Sacks By______2.00 [55th] 2.60 [T-89th]___ Sacks Allowed_____2.75 [97th] 28:27 [92nd]___ Avg. Time of Poss.___ 29:09 [76th] 27.4% [115th]___3rd Down Conv.__23.2% [118th] 41.7% [T-77th]__4th Down Conv._ 50.0% [T-54th]