Vanderbilt's first month of the NCAA football season has been disappointing. Can they make their second month better, starting with an upset win over Missouri?
That's the big question on the minds of players, recruits, and fans as James Franklin looks to rebound from a 48-3 shellacking at the hands of Georgia two weeks ago. An open spot on the schedule gave the Commodores 13 days to prepare for their first trip to Missouri since 1958. How the team responds on Saturday could resonate deeply through the rest of the season and help build Franklin's reputation as a prime-time game planner.
The Tigers will pose a stiff test as the two teams vie for their first SEC wins of the season. Like Vanderbilt, Mizzou has been handled by both #6 South Carolina and #5 Georgia in conference play. However, James Franklin (the quarterback)'s team has kept fans engaged with a pair of solid wins as underdogs against Arizona State and Central Florida. Vanderbilt, conversely, only has a victory over FCS patsy Presbyterian in their win column.
The 'Dores can change all that with a statement win over the Tigers, but they'll need to get their offense in line to make it happen. Jordan Rodgers has been ineffective at quarterback in the team's three losses, and his problems can be attributed to a mix of failing composure behind a porous offensive line and conservative playcalling that has failed to take advantage of the team's talented skill players. Austyn Carta-Samuels has looked decent in reserve work, but whether or not the team will give him snaps in meaningful situations this weekend is still up in the air.
Vandy will also have to rebuild a defense that got gashed for 48 points against Georgia weeks ago. The unit had looked solid in their first three performances of the season before getting torn up by a more athletic and explosive Bulldog squad. They'll face a team that hasn't been as effective moving the ball when they face off with Missouri, but the Tigers still have plenty of playmakers who can give this team headaches. Franklin is a dual-threat quarterback who can buy time in the pocket, while tailback Kendial Lawrence has proven that he can add substance to his team's offense on the ground.
Both teams will have plenty to prove on Saturday night in Columbia. Can the Tigers come together for their first conference win as a member of the SEC? Can the Commodores regroup in time to avoid becoming the answer to a question in a game of Mizzou-branded Trival Pursuit? Which James Franklin will reign supreme?
For answer to all these questions, and our 20% accurate SEC Upset Picks of the Week, keep reading...
Christian D'Andrea: Unfortunately, we were unable to coordinate with our friends over at RockMNation for a Q&A, but we've still got a good idea of who the Tigers are. Missouri looked like they could upset Georgia in the first half of their contest before being ground down by the Bulldogs' potent offense in a 17-0 fourth quarter. They've got a potent offense with plenty of weapons that can test the 'Dores, including Franklin, Lawrence, and uber-hyper freshman wideout Dorial Green-Beckham.
In both of their FBS wins, the Tigers were able to hold on and withstand late rallies to earn a W. Unfortunately, their lapses in the second half aren't exactly something that the Commodores can take advantage of. Vandy has struggled as their games have worn on, particularly on the defensive end over the past few years. Unless the offense can possess the ball and give Vanderbilt's defenders plenty of rest, Mizzou could be in for a relatively drama-free fourth quarter.
That's what this game is going to come down to - whether or not Vandy can possess the ball and hang around long enough to beat a Missouri team whose last 15 minutes aren't as good as their first 45. That'll mean controlling the running game. That's something that the team has failed to do all season, and an area where the Tigers have been stout. Only Georgia has been able to rush for more than four yards per carry against Mizzou, and that only amounted 113 rushing yards.
If Zac Stacy, Warren Norman, and Brian Kimbrow don't play exceptional games, this one is going to come down to Vandy's passing offense. Unfortunately, that's been an enigma all season. My gut wants me to take Vanderbilt by way of a late-game comeback, but all signs point to Missouri in this one.
The Pick: Missouri 24, Vanderbilt 21. Vandy rallies to tie the game late, but a game-ending field goal carries MIssouri to their first SEC win of the season.
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Georgia (+1) over South Carolina. The Bulldogs have looked like the more impressive team all season, and since I can't pick Vandy beating the Tigers, I'm going to bet on UGA. Giving up 44 points to Tennessee was bothersome, but if this game is headed to a shootout (and all signs point to yes in that case) then handing the advantage over to Aaron Murray and Todd Gurley seems like the better play than relying on Connor Shaw and a slow-starting Marcus Lattimore. Better take the "over" while we're at it, too.