The Missouri offense is for real. The Vanderbilt defense is most decidedly not.
The Tigers thrived where Ole Miss and South Carolina had before them, carving up the Commodores early en route to Vanderbilt's worst loss of the year. Missouri scored on every drive they took in the first half before running out the clock with 30 seconds to go in the second quarter en route to a 30-7 halftime lead. The 'Dores were better in the second half, but not good enough to avoid a 51-28 loss.
There's no one place to put the blame on the Commodore defense; everyone was equally bad. The secondary let James Franklin look like Steve Young as he rang up more than 340 yards of total offense and four passing touchdowns. The team's "Wild Dogs" in the trenches allowed Mizzou to chalk up 245 yards on the ground and over 5.7 yards per carry. Vanderbilt didn't force a Tiger punt until there were only 12 minutes left in this game. Even that drive - which culminated with a running play on third-and-six, seemed more like a function of Gary Pinkel's boredom with this game than Vanderbilt's defensive skill.
Vanderbilt came back against a relaxed Missouri defense in the second half, but it wasn't enough to inspire much optimism when the Tigers could seemingly score at will on the other side of the ball. Missouri has been a very good offensive team this season - eighth in the nation in scoring offense, in fact - but the consensus still seems to be that they are in a tier below programs like Texas A&M, Alabama, LSU and Georgia when it comes to fielding a total offense. If the Tigers can tear back the curtain on this team's defense so easily on the road, how will this team adequately prepare to stop the Aggies or Bulldogs in the coming weeks?
The Commodores are about to dive headfirst into their toughest stretch of the season. Unfortunately, they're doing it on the heels of a confidence-shattering loss. James Franklin and his staff will have two weeks to figure out how they can perform better when Georgia comes to town for a nationally-broadcast SEC East showdown. Last season, UGA tapped into the bad blood between Franklin and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to power a 48-3 bloodletting.
Saturday's performance didn't do much to suggest that Vanderbilt can avoid a similarly humiliating loss against the Bulldogs this fall. Unfortunately for the Commodores, the problems on defense don't seem to have an easy fix outside of getting injured linebacker Chase Garnham back in the lineup. The 'Dores have plenty of talent and athleticism on that side of the ball, but this team ended up playing confused football against the Tigers thanks in part to a lack of leadership on the defensive side. That's not something that can be developed in practice over the course of 13 days.
Fortunately, these losses still count as experience, and there have been plenty of young defensive players that have had the chance to learn on the job this season. The growth will come, but there's no standard measurement for a linebacker's ability to identify the read option or seal off the edge when a quarterback drops his shoulders and heads upfield. This program has been solid in the past when it comes to developing underrated recruits and turning them into All-SEC players. Now Franklin will have to prove that he can do the same with his four-star guys.
- Austyn Carta-Samuels breaks the 300-yard barrier again. It was ultimately fruitless, but Carta-Samuels took advantage of Vanderbilt's need to put up points in a hurry and Missouri's mediocre secondary to ring up his third 300-yard passing game of the season. 290 of those yards came in the second half, which opens this performance up for debate. Was ACS able to find holes because he made his needed adjustments and was powered by the idea of rallying at home? Or was the Missouri defense just playing a bit more relaxed thanks to a big lead?
That's right, athletics department. Never stop believing.
- Austyn Carta-Samuels's first quarter. The senior was once again the catalyst behind a terrible start for the Commodores. Carta-Samuels had three completed passes for 12 yards in the first quarter. He was also sacked once for a loss of four yards and had an interception returned for 15 yards, leaving him with a net impact of -7 yards for Vanderbilt in the opening frame. Even if you add a nine-yard first-down run, he's still performing at sub-Mackenzi Adams-ian levels in the first quarter for this team.
- The defense. The whole defense. The 2013 season has served as an enormous exercise in understanding the positive impacts that Archibald Barnes and Chase Garnham have had at linebacker. The Commodores need a stabilizing leader in the middle of the field, and while their young linebackers are talented, they still have a lot to learn about playing against SEC offenses. The only quick fix to this problem is getting Garnham back, but he still looks like he's weeks away from returning based on his sideline body language.
The PiBB Ice Player of the Week: Jordan Matthews.
With 709 yards through the air, Matthews is now the SEC's leading receiver - though Texas A&M's Mike Evans will probably reclaim that lead now that the Aggies' bye week is over. The senior is only 102 yards away from breaking the SEC's all-time receiving yard record, currently held by Georgia's Terrence Edwards. He's 39 catches away from breaking Earl Bennett's school and conference record for career receptions as well, though Bennett set his mark in just three years. There are several silver linings in Vanderbilt's 3-3 record so far, but the play of their future NFL wideout has shined the brightest so far.