After two weeks of cupcake opponents, Vanderbilt will get back to the grind of facing undefeated SEC opponents when Missouri comes to Nashville on Saturday.
The meeting is the second between the Commodores and Tigers as SEC foes. Last year, the 'Dores took advantage of a shaky Mizzou offensive line and an injured James Franklin (the quarterback) (hereby known as JFtQ) to win a sloppy 19-15 affair in Columbia. This year they'll host Missouri for the first time since 1957.
The game will pair up two high powered offenses looking for their first conference win of the season. The Commodores are scoring 34.8 points per game after last week's 52-point explosion against UAB. Missouri is even better with 45.5 points per contest en route to a 4-0 start. As a result, fans should expect fireworks on Saturday, especially with a pair of NFL-caliber wideouts on the field between Vandy's Jordan Matthews, and Mizzou's Dorial Green-Beckham.
It's a big matchup for both teams. Vanderbilt needs to win this game to create a path of least resistance on their way to a third straight season of bowl eligibility. There's plenty of space to earn three more wins even if the 'Dores lose on Saturday, but it will be a tough task against a schedule that includes Florida, Georgia, and Texas A&M.
For Missouri, beating Vanderbilt will serve as proof that their out-of-conference dominance isn't just a superficial record inflating. The Tigers have beaten Indiana, Arkansas State, Murray State, and Toledo on their way to 4-0. A win over Vanderbilt won't vault them into the top half of the SEC just yet, but it will signal that they can compete in the conference and that an eight or nine-win regular season is a real possibility.
There's a lot on the line in Saturday's prime time matchup, and it could come down to a pair of quarterbacks who are looking to break into the upper tier of SEC signal callers. While Austyn Carta-Samuels get his third 300-yard passing game in a Vandy win? Or will Franklin's legs be enough to keep the Commodore defense on its toes en route to a big Tiger victory? Let's take a closer look.
Christian D'Andrea: You can't look at last year's game between these two without determining that Vanderbilt got a bit lucky. Franklin's injury was huge for this team, but we didn't realize just how big it was until later in the season when Jeff Driskel gashed this team for 600 yards on the ground through the read option. A healthy JFtQ could have turned this game from a sloppy, low-scoring affair and backed Vanderbilt into a corner where they would have had to rely on a struggling Jordan Rodgers to play catch-up late.
It's not entirely fair to blame that on luck - JFtQ's injury was also a function of a tough Vandy pass rush and an awful Mizzou offensive line - but it's definitely safe to say that Saturday's matchup will take on a whole new look. The Commodores and Tigers should combine to turn this one into a shootout, especially after Vanderbilt's offense seemed to finally click into gear against UAB last week.
So Missouri can blast Vanderbilt with the run, and they've got a top-notch wideout in Dorial Green-Beckham to keep the 'Dores honest on deep plays. Vanderbilt can blast the Tigers with the pass, and they've got a pair of home-run threats in Jerron Seymour and Brian Kimbrow to keep Mizzou honest on the ground. All signs point to the kind of offensive shootout that has been the hallmark of SEC play in 2013.
Vanderbilt hasn't responded strongly in shootouts under James Franklin. The 'Dores are 2-6 in games that are decided by seven points or less in which each team scores more than 20 points. Instead, Franklin's team tends to win sloppy in close games, just like the 'Dores did last year against the Tigers. If Vanderbilt can drag Missouri into the mud, they'll have their best opportunity to pull out their first SEC victory of the year. That's going to be a tough task for a defense that is still struggling to come together without leader Chase Garnham (leg injury) manning the middle.
So color me skeptical on this one. The 'Dores have the horses to push Missouri to the limit, and home field advantage will work in their favor. However, I have my doubts about their ability to catch up if the Tigers get off to a hot start in the first quarter. If JFtQ can dial up his running game and exploit this team's biggest weakness, it could mean big points early and clock-killing drives later on. That's exactly the formula that South Carolina used to beat this team three weeks ago.
The Prediction? Missouri 31, Vanderbilt 27
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Well, see above, I guess. The Tigers are a one-point underdog to the Commodores, which is inspiring after how poorly the 'Dores played against UMass. Auburn has a definite shot over Ole Miss in a game that could define Gus Malzahn's early regime, as well.