Vanderbilt Report Card: Missouri

Vanderbilt fell at Missouri 24-14 on Saturday in Columbia, Mo.'s Don Yates grades the Commodores' performance in several key team areas.

It was Johnny McCrary's first start of his career and he performed well completing 17-of-31 passes for two TDs and one interception on a tipped pass. He connected with Nathan Marcus from 9-yards out near the end of the first half for a the first score. Late in the fourth quarter McCrary threw a fine 29-yard pass to C.J. Duncan who made an over the shoulder catch and ran into the end zone. Steven Scheu had six receptions for 81 yards. Davis Dudchock, the Stanford transfer and former Vandy commit, made three catches for 29 yards. Caleb Scott, son of former Vandy great Jeff Scott, made a pair of receptions. Vandy's blockers allowed just two sacks during the game, which was a stellar effort considering that Missouri had 26 sacks coming into the game.

Missouri loaded the box and dared Vanderbilt to throw. The Commodore ran for just 44 yards on 27 carries (1.6 YPC). Ralph Webb, who has averaged over five yards a carry in several games this season, finished with just 38 yards on 16 carries (2.1 YPC). McCrary was the second leading rusher with seven net yards gained. Vandy tried getting Darrius Sims in the mix for a run but that play was blown up for a 3-yard loss and Sims never had another chance.

Tiger QB Maty Mauk completed 11-of-23 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. His two scoring passes went to Bud Sasser. On the first TD, a 13-yard reception, a Vandy DB was knocked down and Sasser was left open for the catch and run score. His second TD was a 29-yard reception that sealed the 'Dores with a loss. Sasser could be seen clearly grasping Torren McGaster's face mask and pushing him away to gain position. No call was made, despite an official watching nearby. Oren Burks, back from injury, had a pair of pass breakups as well as Taurean Ferguson. Stephen Weatherly had two sacks during the game. One was in the third quarter when the Tigers where in Vandy territory and threatening to score. That sack forced a Tiger punt.

Missouri ran will against Vandy. Every player who carried the ball for the Tigers averaged 4.6 yards or more per carry. Marcus Murphy was the top ground gainer with 93 yards on 16 carries (5.8 YPC). Russell Hansbrough picked up 87 yards on 19 carries. Even the QB Mauk got into the act. He gained 58 yards on seven carries and had a 36 yarder in the second half that was a back-breaker for the 'Dores. Middle linebacker Nigel Bowden led the Commodores in tackles with 11, nine of those were solos. McGaster finished with six and Zach Cunningham, back from injury, had six.

Colby Cooke continues to be Mr. Reliable. He finished with six punts for a 41.5 average and had a long boot of 55 yards. Trey Ellis was nearly killed on one punt return when the Tiger Anthony Sherrils decided to nail a defenseless player. He was ejected but during the review got plenty of congratulations on the sidelines while smiling and making silly faces. Pretty disgusting. Both teams pretty much kept the opposing team's heralded return men in check. Tommy Openshaw didn't attempt a field goal but was 2-of-2 on extra point attempts.

The team does seem to be making some improvement since the meltdown against Temple earlier in the season. Penalties are fewer, turnovers have dropped. The team seems to be improving on both sides of the ball. However, while the coaches are busy cleaning things up they also need to be better competitors themselves. I won't bring up punting the ball with well over a minute left in the game and down just 10. It was fourth and 32 at the three and there are valid arguments on both sides as to whether you should go for it. However, earlier in the game it was fourth and 1 at the Missouri 48 and Vandy punted. I think that would have been an excellent time to roll the dice and keep a drive going. Had Vandy went on to score a TD on that drive, that last McCrary TD pass would have put VU up 21-17 and we'll never know how the game might have panned out.

There's hope for this team but, again, the coaches need to be better competitors. I'm not sure what Mason is thinking. He wants to be a "blue collar team". Does that mean they never roll the dice and take a risk? That they only score conventionally and not by going for it on fourth down, running fakes or trick plays? It would be neat to get the program to where it never needed to use deception or trickery to win a game. However, I just don't see Vandy ever being like Alabama, LSU or some of the other college heavyweights. If you are Vandy in the SEC you are going to have to take some chances to win games.

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