Vanderbilt has had two weeks to process all the dos and don'ts of their 21-20 squeaker over Charleston Southern. Will that be enough to make a difference against Missouri?
That's 14 days for redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary to get accustomed to the starting quarterback role. 14 days for offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell to figure out an offense that works with his mobile passer. In Jerron Seymour's case, 21 days to prep for the Tigers after missing the Buccaneer game due to disciplinary problems.
The bye week will test this team's ability to properly prepare for an opponent. Vanderbilt has the young talent to hang with an uneven Mizzou squad. However, they'll need to get creative to upset a team that's teetering on the brink of top 25 inclusion on the road. That spark of play-calling imagination isn't something that head coach Derek Mason and Dorrell have shown off in their budding tenures on the Commodore coaching staff.
Will the 'Dores have something special up their sleeves for the Tigers? Or will Shane Ray pick up where Kentucky left off and keep Vandy's quarterbacks from ever getting comfortable in the pocket? Let's take a closer look:
Christian D'Andrea: If you had told me that an SEC East team could win a conference game this season while getting only 20 yards from its quarterback, I would have been hoping and praying that it was Vanderbilt. Instead, it was Missouri and Maty Mauk, who took Florida behind the woodshed in a 42-13 whooping last week. The Tigers proved that they can take advantage of their opponents' mistakes in that win, and that does not bode well for a young Commodore team that has made tons of them in 2014.
I really want to hop on the Johnny McCrary train right now, but the bottom line is that he went scoreless in the second half against Charleston Southern. While the freshman was able to move the ball when the team needed it the most, his inability to capitalize on an overwhelmed Buccaneer defense doesn't bode well for Saturday. He had several plays where he looked every bit an SEC starting quarterback. He also had a few that could have been game-changing plays against a conference opponent. I'm looking forward to seeing if he can take another step forward, but since this is 2014, that's very cautious optimism.
The most detrimental current in Saturday's game will be the pass-rushing presence of Shane Ray. Ray already has 10 sacks this season, and Vandy's offensive output against Kentucky (0 points) showed how capable this team is of handling an aggressive blitz (not very). McCrary has the wheels to get out of the way, but I worry about a young quarterback getting rattled in a hostile environment with a suffocating defensive end taking the place of his shadow for 60 minutes. I think McCrary can be a very good quarterback, even this early in his development. Unfortunately, I don't think the Mizzou pass rush will allow him to get there this weekend.
The Vandy defense will be another question mark on Saturday. The Commodore secondary was beginning to jell with Paris Head as a starting cornerback, but playing for Derek Mason has apparently convinced him to give up football forever. Taurean Ferguson will start in his place. The freshman has shown a great burst and the ability to catch back up to the ball, but he's not a polished product yet. He'll have to grow into his new role quickly to keep Mauk from having a bounce-back game on Saturday.
In the end, Missouri is a borderline top 25 team. Vandy is a borderline top 100 one. The Tigers will overpower the 'Dores.
The Pick: Missouri 34, Vanderbilt 17.
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: TENNESSEE (+17.5) over Alabama. I haven't been right since week four. Why ruin my own streak?
VandyImport: I don't even know any more. It's been two weeks since we hung on by our toenails to beat a I-AA opponent who then went out to lose 7-3 to Presbyterian. All the talk is that McCrary is the shot in the arm the team needed, and they're really truly going to try to work Sims and Sherfield into the offense now, and...you know what, I just don't think this is going to happen. Missouri boat-raced Florida in Gainesville with a minimum of effort, and while I think we can cover it, I don't really see a win in Columbia unless Austyn Carta-Samuels gives Matty Mauk and Gary Pinkel chairshots before ripping open his jacket to reveal a Vandy jersey before being thrown a pair of brass knucks studded in diamonds by a returning Goldfather and they both proceed to clean house on the sideline while Dave Neal yells "MAH GAWD, ANDRE, THE CARNAGE IS LIKE A PIER SIX BRAWL OUT THAR!!"
The Pick: Missouri 35, Vanderbilt 20.
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: LSU (+3.5) over Ole Miss. OK, it's not a night game, but never pick a home dog that you don't think can win outright, and Tiger Stadium to me is enough to get over. I could be wrong, but College Gameday is in town, and I suspect Dr. Bo may wind up suturing up a patient with an e-cig and some boudin left in the incision.