Three Keys Vanderbilt at Missouri

With the bye week having come and gone it is time once again for the ‘Dores to strap on the pads this weekend as they travel to Columbia, Missouri to take on the Tigers. The week off should have given this young Vanderbilt team an important break to heal the body and refocus the mind and it will be interesting to see just how the black and gold approach the rest of this season.

If the players are buying in you can expect to see improvement from week to week and a positive build toward 2015. If Derek Mason has lost his squad none of the above will happen and 2014 will end as flat as it began. Here are the three keys for the first game of the stretch run.

1) Don’t ask too much of Johnny McCrary

Despite the extra week or rest it seems that Patton Robinette’s concussion symptoms have still not abated and as a result the Vanderbilt starting quarterback is out again this weekend. Robinette has been out since September 20th with the concussion and, if we are being honest, it wouldn’t be a shock at this point if he did not return at all this year. With Robinette out head coach Derek Mason has yet another decision to make a quarterback and according to multiple reports the next man up this week is redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary.

McCrary of course subbing in and finished the Charleston Southern game, completing 10 of 16 passes for 169, one touchdown and one interception. With Previous starter Wade Freebeck still feeling the effects of a finger injury, McCrary is going to be Vandy’s fourth starter in eight games this fall. You don’t need to be a football genius to know that starting a new quarterback in 50% of your games is not a good way to win, but McCrary is an athletic and confident young player who has perhaps flashed more ability than any of the others this fall. The running game will be important here to keep McCrary out of the teeth of the pass rush, but it will be interesting to see how he fares with a full game in front of him.

2) Neutralize Shane Ray

In recent years Missouri has had an unerring ability to flood the line of scrimmage with big time pass rushers. Aldon Smith was a beast in college, and then in the pros, while Michael Sam took home SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors last fall. The next man up in Columbia is Shane Ray and he is every bit the player his two predecessors were.

In seven games so far this fall Ray has tallied 14.5 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks, which is good enough for third in the nation. He is also just 1.5 sacks off of the Missouri record (co-held by Smith and Sam) and he gets his sacks in bunches, with four games of two sacks already in 2014. The key to dealing with Ray is negating his first step and countering his speed off of the edge. He is not a flashy guy who has an array of pass rush moves, nor is he someone who will run over an offensive tackle with pure power. If he is able to get his burst around the edge going though, this could be a long day for the Vandy offensive line.

3) Win the turnover battle

At 5-2 the Tigers are just one win away from bowl eligibility and they are coming off of a beat down of Florida last weekend. One of the keys to beating a team who on paper is better than you is to go and take the ball off of them while protecting the ball yourself. This is what the ‘Dores have to do in Columbia to stand a chance. In all reality Vanderbilt has to be +2 or better in the turnover column and ideally those turnovers would set Vandy up with a short field or two so that the running game can do its work. In the Tigers one strange loss this season they gave up 241 yards rushing to a very average Indiana squad. If Vandy can win the turnover battle and establish the run then you never know what can happen on any given Saturday.

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