Vanderbilt sports a .500 record against Missouri since the Tigers joined the SEC, but you could make the case that these Southeastern Conference neophytes have had a more successful tenure in their two years in the East than Vandy has in their last 40. After all, the Commodores have never been to Atlanta to fight for the league title in December. Nor have they recorded a 12-win season.
Derek Mason will have the opportunity to knock Gary Pinkel down a notch by pulling off a road upset on Saturday, but Vandy is currently a 23.5-point underdog as Mizzou's homecoming opponent. That means that bettors are looking at a team whose quarterback threw for 20 yards last week and saying "yeah, they'll probably win by four possessions." Based on the way Vandy has played against conference opponents - they've lost by an average of 22.25 points - it's tough to blame them.
That doesn't mean that the 'Dores can't pull off a stunner in Columbia - just that it'll take a lot of work. To better assess Vandy's chances, we enlisted the help of an expert. Jack Peglow is a manager over at SBNation's Missouri site RockMNation. He was kind enough to answer three brief questions about the Tigers and give us his prediction for Saturday afternoon.
1. Maty Mauk led Missouri to a 42-13 win over Florida behind a blistering 20 passing yards last weekend. That was his third straight game in which he completed less than 43 percent of his passes. What have SEC defenses been doing to limit his effectiveness in the passing game?
Jack Peglow, RockMNation: In some way or another, they've rattled him. Whether that means that the opposing defense got real, tangible pressure, or that Maty was seeing ghosts is of no matter. At some point Mauk will inevitably decide that his pocket is going to collapse and he's going to have to vacate and make a play. Sometimes, that can lead to a spectacular play, but most times – especially in the last three games – it leads to broken plays, incompletions, and turnovers. It isn't fair to place all of the blame on Maty, though. There are layers to his inconsistency, one of them being an offensive line that has taken roughly 7 steps back this season. Injuries and graduation have wreaked havoc on the position group, and it's definitely taken a toll on the passing game. Peel back that layer and you're confronted with the stark lack of rapport that Mauk has been able to develop with his receivers. Bud Sasser seems to be the only one on the same page as Maty from week to week. The rest of the crew – Jimmie Hunt, Darius White, Sean Culkin, Marcus Murphy, et al – have shown flashes of adequacy, but only that. Flashes. Apparently, when you lose your top three receivers from the previous season (all of whom were over 6'4", by the way), your passing game will regress.
Basically, you can limit Mauk's effectiveness by at least shrinking the pocket on him. He'll also do some limiting all by himself though, so you've got that going for you.
2. Vandy will likely be breaking in their 4th starting quarterback of the season (Johnny McCrary) on Saturday. McCrary has a strong arm, but also great athleticism and the ability to create plays with his legs. Between him and tailbacks Ralph Webb, Jerron Seymour, and Dallas Rivers, the 'Dores seem likely to produce a run-heavy offense this weekend. How well equipped are the Tigers to stop that?
JP: Mizzou's defense is the reason they're still in the hunt for the SEC East. They're far and away the stronger side of the ball. It's not even close. That said, the Tigers have shown a tendency to allow big plays in the running game. Indiana's Tevin Coleman gashed them on several occasions, as did Nick Chubb of Georgia. Granted, both of those guys are incredibly talented, but the trend still remains.
As a Mizzou fan, the aspect of Vanderbilt's offense that worries me the most is Ralph Webb. If he can bust open a few big gains, this game may end up being closer than the Homecoming crowd would like. He can do that by making it to the second level. It's a tall task to be sure. Mizzou's D-line is one of the best around. You've got DEs Shane Ray and Markus Golden – two players bound for the top rounds of the NFL Draft – as well as DTs Harold Brantley, Lucas Vincent, and Josh Augusta to get by, and the linebacking duo of Michael Scherer and Kentrell Brothers are tackling machines. Once you get past the front seven however, you're in much better shape. Safety Braylon Webb is a senior and one of the team captains. He's also just about the only player in the secondary who can tackle. Maneuver your way around Webb, and all you have to worry about is some little dudes diving at your legs.
3. Vanderbilt nearly got QB Wade Freebeck killed against Kentucky's constant blitzing thanks to a shaky offensive line. Knowing that, how many sacks do you expect Shane Ray to have? Let's set the over/under at 2.5 to make things interesting.
JP: As good as Ray has been at bringing down the QB, he's more consistent than he is prolific. He hasn't recorded more than two sacks in a game yet this season, but he's hit that number three times and he just missed it by a half last week. I'll say that he goes under 2.5 sacks, but the team as a whole will go over 5. Golden is just as lethal, and the wide-bodies in the middle have shown that they can snag a sack or two as well.
And finally, what's your prediction for Saturday's game?
JP: I'll stick to what I called on our podcast this week: 36-14, Mizzou. I think it stays close for most of the first half, and maybe even into the third quarter, but the Tigers pull away in the end on the back of a turnover and one or two big runs from Russell Hansbrough and/or Marcus Murphy. Also, I think Vandy will take a pick to the house. Just got that feeling, ya know?