Missouri WeekOctober 5th has been circled on the Vandy calendar since the 2013 schedule was released. Last year the turning point of the season came against Missouri. This year, the same may very well be true. We won the 2012 game 19-15 – but it was a perfect storm of circumstances that permitted us to eke out the narrow, road victory. James Franklin, Mizzou's fleet-footed QB, ran the offense effectively on the Tigers' early drives, but our defense stiffened in the red zone twice, holding Missouri to field goals. Missouri led 6-0 in the first quarter when Franklin was injured; he had already accumulated 79 yards of offense. His back-up was not a threat to run and our defense pinned back their ears and blitzed the rest of the night. With a stationary QB under center, Mizzou's O-line, short-handed by injuries, could not repel our pass rush and we held the inexperienced back-up to 9 completions in 30 throws. Statistically, nonetheless, first downs and turnovers were even in this game. Missouri outgained us by 100 yards (thanks largely to a maddening, late 85-yard TD bomb.) Special teams played a key role; a botched Missouri snap gave us a safety, and another errant snap cost Mizzou a critical extra point. It was a tense, hard-fought win.
Our offense was held below 300 yards and we had problems against Missouri's d-line (which was anchored by now-pro Sheldon Richardson.) Zac Stacy had 29 runs for only 72 yards. Jordan Matthews had nine catches for 91 yards – three more catches than the rest of the team combined. Our punting yardage for the game actually exceeded our yards gained on offense.
Last year Mizzou was already 0-2 in conference when we faced them. This year we are 0-2 in league play and the Tigers enter the game a confident 4-0 after dismantling a relatively weak out-of-conference schedule. QB James Franklin is at it again – completing 67 percent of his passes, and still a threat to run. Missouri boasts a balanced corps of receivers led by Dorial Green-Beckham, with three receivers grabbing 19 or more balls through four games. A stable of RBs is highlighted by Russell Hansbrough – but four Missouri runners have rushed for over 200 yards. This includes Franklin, the dual threat QB, who is averaging over five yards per carry.
On paper, given our problems with running QBs, this is a difficult match-up. Fortunately, our defense turned aggressive and feisty last week as we played our most complete game of the season. We blitzed at will against UAB, we abandoned our loose cushions and mixed things up. Better still, our coach acknowledged the aggressive change in philosophy during the half-time interview. Our young LBs – we played UAB minus two starters – also seemed more comfortable in their roles last Saturday. Solid linebacker play will be essential if we are going to contain Missouri's running QB.
We will need two additional upgrades on defense to win this game. One is that our D-line and blitzers have to wrap up and tackle this week. We have been plagued by missed opportunities and air tackles – especially against running QBs. If we allow Franklin to run around too long, someone is going to get open or he is going to sprint for first downs. Our D-line has looked good lately – but this Saturday night they need to finish plays. The second key is that we need to disguise our defensive play-calls. Franklin is an excellent QB – but he can be baited into mistakes. We likely will need to force turnovers to win this one. Franklin had several turnovers in his lone road game at Indiana, but Mizzou also gained over 600 total yards in that game. Missouri has averaged 45 points per contest through September – at the same time, they trailed Arkansas State last week in the second half before busting the game open late. Their stats are imposing – but non-conference stats mean little once the SEC season begins.
Just the same, we have looked good on offense lately, too. And we have averaged 30 points per game in two SEC outings. Against UAB the o-line excelled – but also took a physical beating. They need to heal quickly, because we need to be able to run to win this week – especially if the running game can set up play action passing. Against UAB Austyn Carta-Samuels spread the ball around nicely. Our backs and tight ends were actual threats as receivers – and Jordan Matthews and Jonathon Krause continued to produce. Missouri has given up over 20 points per game – even through non-conference play. The winner of this game is likely to break 30 points.
While our running game was contained by Mizzou last year, our o-line had not yet gelled. The line has shown signs of gelling early this year and the battle in the trenches could well decide who wins this one. Both Jerron Seymour and Wesley Tate were effective at rb last week; as a side note, last year, Brian Kimbrow was very productive against Missouri – gaining nine yards per carry on three tries. Our wildcat has been a consistent weapon this season – in this game, if we stick with it, it might be our best means of keeping Missouri's potent offense off the field. The winner of this game will claim upward mobility in the SEC East. There is really no way to down-play the importance of a win here – the loser will struggle to reclaim positioning. The winner will walk away fairly confident of a bowl bid.
Around the conference there are several other important turf wars this Saturday. LSU at Mississippi State is a dangerous hangover game for the Tigers. Sometimes a team like Georgia can beat you twice. MSU is coming off an impressive massacre of Troy followed by a bye to help prepare for LSU. This should be a hard-fought game – LSU is favored by 9½ and their chances of winning are good if the tough loss last week does not haunt them. Similarly, Ole Miss is still smarting from the bagel administered by Bama's defense. Ole Miss travels again this week – and they will likely not chatter as much about their opponent, Auburn. Last week's put-downs of Bama's defense in the media were ill-advised proved to waken a dozing giant. Ole Miss should win this week, but Auburn is off to a good start and Texas A&M and LSU loom for Ole Miss in the immediate future. Ole Miss will feel some pressure to win this one – and Auburn has had a bye this week to get ready. Vegas gives Ole Miss the nod by only three.
Arkansas put up a good fight at home versus A&M last week. This week they travel to Florida where the prognosis for the Razorbacks is bleak. Kentucky, for the second week in a row, will face a team that lost their qb the week before. SC will still have plenty of room for error against the Wildcats, although the Gamecocks were sloppy in victory last week at UCF. Georgia travels to UT as 10½ point favorites. The Vols squandered a 31-7 lead last week against South Alabama and held on for dear life at the end. Georgia's offense continues to look unstoppable – although they are coming off an emotional win and have some injury question marks. Even an emotionally drained Georgia seems to have too many weapons for UT to stop. Finally, Bama has the lone cupcake of the week and is favored by 56 over Georgia State. Only Nick Saban himself knows if the Tide will bother to cover. A&M gets the week off.
This week we find out who we really are. Then we get a bye week to think about it. It will be a long bye week if we cannot find a way to win this one.