Coming out of their bye week, Vanderbilt Head Coach Derek Mason has said that he expected his team to play better, and the Commodores made a prophet of their head coach with their best performance of the season. First-time starting quarterback Johnny McCrary stood in the face of Missouri’s pass rush and delivered Vanderbilt’s best quarterback performance of the season.
“I thought Missouri battled, just like we battled,” said Coach Mason. “I thought Johnny McCrary played well…………………………………… He’s getting better every time he touches the grass……………………………….. I thought we gave Missouri way too much in the run game.”
Missouri grabbed a 3-0 lead early in the 1st quarter, and never trailed, although Vanderbilt did twice cut the Tigers’ lead to 3 points, to 10-7 late in the 1st half, and again to 17-14 midway through the 4th quarter.
“Bud really made a play,” said Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel. “You talk about a big play on a big stage in a big game! That was huge!”
Sasser finished with 5 receptions for 74 yards and 2 TDs. Maty Mauk finished 11-23-0 for 141 yards and 2 TDs. And Missouri emphasized their improved run game, as the Tigers rushed for 244 yards and 1 TD on 46 carries.
“I think we got better on offense,” said Coach Pinkel, who was pleased that his team had won the turnover battle by a 1-0 margin, but was not pleased with his team’s 14 penalties for 100 yards. “I think the numbers are maybe a little bit better than what they look. But overall, I think we made progress.”
Missouri averaged 5.6 yards/play on their way to 385 yards of total offense, and the Tigers converted 9-of-16 third downs, and were 1-for-1 on fourth down.
“Hats off to Missouri for how they played,” said Coach Mason. “But I think our football team is just continuing to get better…………………………………….. I thought it was a hard-fought game.”
Vanderbilt pooched the opening kick-off away from Marcus Murphy, and Darvin Ruise caught it and returned it to the Missouri 37-yard line. From there, Missouri went to their ground game, and moved the football to the Vanderbilt 19-yard line, where on third and 4, Mauk went to the fade along the left boundary in the end zone. But, Sasser was too close to the sideline, and there was no place for Mauk to fit the ball in. The defender tipped the ball, and Sasser caught the deflection out of bounds. Andrew Baggett came in to nail a 37-yard field goal, and Missouri led 3-0 with 10:59 remaining in the 1st quarter.
Vanderbilt took over at their own 25-yard line, and moved the football into Missouri territory before they had to punt. For the remainder of the 1st quarter, neither team moved the football, and the two teams exchanged a series of punts.
Near the end of the 1st quarter, Maty Mauk found Jimmy Hunt down the left sideline for 35 yards and a first down at the Vanderbilt 45-yard line. Missouri closed out the 1st quarter with a 5-yard gain by Marcus Murphy. It appeared that Missouri might have something going, but the Tigers failed to advance the football any further.
Vanderbilt came right back and moved the football across midfield. Johnny McCrary effectively maneuvered the Commodores to the Missouri 44-yard line where, after converting on a third and 5, Vanderbilt was flagged for an ineligible man downfield. On the repeat third down, Marcus Golden burst through and chased McCray from the pocket. Matt Hoch was credited with the sack when he ran McCrary out of bounds. Hoch had his most-productive game of the season, as he led Missouri with 6 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, and 1.5 sacks.
Murphy returned the punt to the Missouri 23-yard line. Then, Missouri went to their ground game, and the Tigers put together a 12-play 77-yard drive that was capped off by a 10-yard TD run by Russell Hansbrough. That was the 10th running play of the drive, a hand-off to Hansbrough on fourth-and-1 from the 10-yard line. Hansbrough cut to the right of the tight end, and he had a clear lane to the end zone. On that drive, Ish Witter carried once for 9 yards and a first down, and a key play in the drive was Mauk’s lone pass completion, when he scrambled left and quickly got the ball out into the left flat to Hansbrough, who scampered up the left sideline for 17 yards and a first down.
Missouri led 10-0 with 3:19 left in the half when McCrary engineered a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive that was aided by a pair of Missouri penalties, and was capped off by a 9-yard TD pass from McCrary to Nathan Marcus with 8 seconds left in the half.
Vanderbilt had closed the gap to 10-7, and had taken the momentum into the locker room. The Commodores would get the ball to begin the 2nd half.
In the 1st half, Missouri had rushed for 106 yards on their way to 156 total yards. And, Vanderbilt had rushed for 40 yards on their way to 128 total yards. Mauk was 4-10-0 for 50 yards, and McCrary was 9-16-0 for 88 yards and 1 TD.
Vanderbilt took the opening kickoff of the 2nd half, and started to move the football. On first and 10 from the Missouri 44-yard line, Harold Brantley burst through and got into McCrary’s face, which resulted in the red-shirt freshman QB throwing a wounded duck that Braylon Webb intercepted at the Missouri 26-yard line.
Missouri picked up a couple of first downs, but Mauk was sacked on third down near midfield. Christian Brinser did his job, and Vanderbilt took over at their own 12-yard line.
Vanderbilt moved the chains once before having to punt. Marcus Murphy returned it to the Missouri 44-yard line, and five plays later, facing third and 15 at the Vanderbilt 49-yard line, Mauk ran a QB draw for 36 yards and a first down at the Vanderbilt 13-yard line. On the next play, Mauk found Sasser on the inside of a rub route combo with Jimmie Hunt, and Bud took it into the end zone. Mizzou was back up by ten at 17-7, with 2:27 remaining in the 3rd quarter.
Missouri had the ball in Vanderbilt territory again to start the 4th quarter, but Baggett missed the 42-yarder from the right hash.
That seemed to breathe life into the Commodores, and maybe sucked the life out of the Missouri defense, as McCrary worked it to his tight end over the middle to move into scoring position. From there, he found C.J. Duncan for 29 yards and a TD to cap off a 6-play, 76-yard drive. The Commodores had pulled to within three, at 17-14 Missouri, with 6:53 remaining.
Missouri would need to move the chains to play keep away, or score another touchdown to regain their two-score lead.
The Tigers did both. Mauk opened the drive with a screen pass to Nate Brown, who stayed on the field for much of this drive. Brown picked up 4 yards. Then, on third and 1 from the Missouri 39-yard line, Russell Hansbrough ran over 6’4” 255-pound Caleb Azubike to pick up the first down. Two plays later, Mauk pitched it to Murphy on the speed option, and although the execution of the pitch play wasn’t perfect, Murphy made several people miss, and he took it 19 yards down the right sideline for a first down at the Vanderbilt 34-yard line. After Mauk had a pass batted at the line of scrimmage, he caught the ball and picked up about 4 yards. But Sasser was flagged for a block in the back, and the Tigers were facing second and 20 at the Vanderbilt 44-yard line.
Mauk scrambled out to the right, and made 6’5” 255-pound Stephen Weatherly miss, to get back to near the original line of scrimmage. But Weatherly was flagged for a facemask penalty, as he reached for the elusive Mauk. So, Missouri had a first down at the Vanderbilt 19-yard line. As Missouri faced second and 11 at the Vanderbilt 20-yard line, with 2:15 remaining, Vanderbilt burned their second time-out, and the Tigers just needed a first down to run out the clock.
For the third time in the game, Taylor Chappell was flagged for illegal procedure, and the Tigers were now facing second and 16 at the Vanderbilt 25-yard line. Mauk dropped back and had time. He lofted one high into the back left corner of the end zone. Sasser used his body to hold position and create just enough space to come down with the football in bounds. It was a beautiful catch, as Sasser fought off the defender while he caught the ball and got one foot down in the back left corner of the end zone. The best part of it was the way he used his body to block out and hold position, as if for a rebound.
For Missouri, it was an SEC win. And for the struggling offense, it was a definite step in the right direction, and something for Maty Mauk and company to build on.
“Every win is a great win! Every win. Because it’s very, very hard to win,” said Coach Pinkel. “Everybody just wants us to kind of go out and have everything easy. Well, it’s not like that! You know, there’s lessons to learn there. But also, we haven’t played our best football game yet. We need to do that.”