USA Today/Denny Medley

Head to Head: Vanderbilt at Missouri

Vanderbilt is on the road for the second straight weekend, this time traveling to Columbia to take on Mizzou.



The Vanderbilt passing offense is still very much a work in progress. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur is 130 of 236 attempts for 1,310 yards, five touchdowns, and four interceptions. In the game against Auburn last time out Shurmer had a better than expected performance and he is showing sure signs of progress as the season moves on. Shurmer threw his first SEC touchdown pass against the Tigers, hitting freshman tight end Jared Pickney for the score. C.J. Duncan has emerged as a go-to receiver and the junior had seven catches for 79 yards in the loss.

The Missouri Tigers are coming into this one on the back of a five-game losing streak after starting the season 2-2. Freshman South Carolina quarterback Jake Bently has only played three games this season, but he was able to go 22 of 28 through the air for 254 yards and two scores against this defense. The Tigers are 77th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game as they give up 237.7 yards to opposing quarterbacks. Missouri has also allowed 13 passing touchdowns in 2016.



The Auburn game was not the best on the ground for the 'Dores as the Tigers worked on taking away Ralph Webb and making Vandy beat them in different ways. Webb rushed for just 46 yards while backup Khari Blasingame was also unable to shake loose and only rushed for 30 yards on nine carries. Webb now has 901 yards and six touchdowns on the year and the cumulative ground game has been responsible for 1,423 yards and 15 scores.

The Missouri rushing defense has been a mess in 2016. The Tigers ranks 116th in the nation in total defense, perhaps unsurprising for a 2-7 squad. Missouri allows 232.7 yards per game on the ground (and 30.4 points per game) all of which should be music to the ears of Webb and the rushing attack. If Webb is able to take advantage of running lanes then the passing game will be much more productive against a porous defense.



Missouri has passed for 2,663 yards this season on 178 receptions and has 21 passing touchdowns. Most of those passes have come from sophomore QB Drew Lock who has attempted 328 passes, and 178 have been completed sitting at roughly 54.3 percent. This is a passing attack that has seen Lock throw for 19 scores. There are two main targets when the Tigers are on offense as WR J'Mon Moore (39 catches) and WR Dimetrios Mason (34 catches) have combined for eight touchdowns. This is a passing attack that has put up big numbers because Mizzou has been forced to chase games.

The Vanderbilt passing defense has had to step up given that the offense struggles to score. The Commodores have moved up in the defensive rankings over the last few weeks and now ranks 63rd in the nation and allows 226.4 yards per game through the air. Vanderbilt though has been good in the red zone and play that bend but don't break style that has seen the opposition score just 11 touchdowns passing despite the yardage. One area Vandy could improve is when it comes to taking the ball away as the team has just five interceptions on the year and they did not add to that total last week.



The Missouri running game is nothing like the monster Auburn unit Vandy faced last week. RB Damarea Crockett rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown last weekend against South Carolina in a game where the Tigers rushed for 163 yards and a couple of touchdowns. On the season he has carried the ball 109 times for 683 yards and eight touchdowns. Crockett is ably backed up by Ish Witter who has rushed for 551 yards and four more scores.

The Vanderbilt defense is quietly one of the most improved units in the nation. Vanderbilt has held opponents to a third-down conversion rate of 32% since Week 4 and was right on that pace last time out against an Auburn ground game that is designed to convert those chances. The run defense also has been big in the red-zone, force teams to take field goals seven times (instead of touchdowns) during that span.

Oh, and Zach Cunningham has a ridiculous 94 tackles to lead the SEC in that category.



Vanderbilt's Tommy Openshaw had comfortably his best game of the season against Auburn, going 3 for 3 on field goals and hitting his lone extra point attempt.He has now connected on 11-of-14 field goals with a long of 52 yards (set last week) on the year. Openshaw is perfect on extra points and on field goals shorter than 40 yards. Punter Sam Loy is averaging 43.4 yards per punt and after last weekend he has cumulatively kicked for over 2000 yards in 2016.

The Tigers kicking game is just a mess. Tucker McCann is 30 of 32 for the year on extra points, but he is just 5 of 9 on his field goal attempts. The biggest issue is that McCann cannot even be trusted on short range kicks as he is just 2 of 4 on attempts in the 20-29 yard bracket. This means that Missouri has been forced to go for it on fourth down in situations where a field goal would seem much more obvious.



First-year head coach Barry Odom is 2-7 at Missouri. Odom has been on the Tigers staff in various roles since taking a graduate assistant position there in 2003. He has held titles such as Director of Recruiting, Director of Football Operations, and Defensive Coordinator with Mizzou.

Third-year Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason is 11-21 at Vandy. He previously was the defensive coordinator at Stanford and has coached as an assistant in the NFL. Mason took over coordinating of the Commodore defense following the 2014 season and in 2015 Vanderbilt had the most improved defense in the nation (FBS). Mason has Vanderbilt two wins from bowl eligibility with three games left this season



The Tigers are out of contention for bowl eligibility as Odom's first season in charge at Missouri is fading away with a big losing streak.Odom will try to get his players up for this as it is one of the only games left on the schedule that they can win. Giving up over 400 yards to offensively challenge South Carolina last weekend, however, suggests that some of his players may have already checked out.

Prediction:  Vanderbilt 24, Missouri 14. The Vanderbilt defense will be the difference in this one and Missouri will find themselves chasing yet another game. Expect big numbers from Ralph Webb and the running game as the attrition that has taken some of the Tigers best defensive players out with injuries proves too much to overcome.

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