Last week, Vanderbilt squandered a great opportunity to notch the first conference win of the Derek Mason era when they were beaten by an offensively inept South Carolina team. This week, they get a re-do.
The Commodores will face one of the few teams in the nation that scores fewer points per game than they do when Missouri comes to Nashville this weekend. Vanderbilt's Homecoming game will come against a Tiger team that has failed to break the 14-point barrier in each of their last five games. In the past two weeks, Mizzou has scored a total of nine points.
That leaves a big opportunity for Vanderbilt, but they'll have to overcome their own offensive shortcomings to get there. The 'Dores haven't scored more than 17 points in a game against a I-A opponent this season. Worse yet, they'll be staring down the NCAA's #6 scoring defense. In all, Saturday's game may come down to whose offense makes fewer mistakes - and whose defensive and special teams standouts make more plays.
In order to learn more about Missouri's struggles, we enlisted the help of an expert. Jack Peglow is one of the managers of Rock M Nation, SBNation's Tigers hub. He brought me on to his podcast Tuesday night, and then returned the favor by answering a few of the questions that I had about Saturday's matchup (since we haven't done a podcast since August. AoG Podcast returns in 2017!). Here's what he had to say about Mizzou and Vanderbilt's chances to win one of the lowest scoring games of the new millennium.
1. Missouri boasts one of only nine offenses in the country that score fewer points per game than Vanderbilt in 2015. What's been the cause of Mizzou's end zone woes?
Jack Peglow: How much time you got? Mizzou's offense has been plagued by every blight you can imagine. Inexperience at almost every position, injuries to key players, suspensions, and poor offensive line play, to name a few. The coaches have alluded to some possible offensive line changes this week, which would be a welcome shake up to arguably the worst unit on the field. If that happens, it's possible that things could start trending up. If not, Vanderbilt should be able to get pressure on Drew Lock with relative ease.
2. With Maty Mauk suspended for a fourth straight week, what can we expect from freshman QB Drew Lock? Also, any insight on the unspecified violation that continues to keep him on the bench?
Drew is incredibly composed for a true freshman. He's been running for his life the past two weeks, and it hasn't seemed to effect him any more negatively than it would a more experienced signal-caller. He also has fantastic hair. I know you can't really quantify that in football terms, but just trust me on this: that hair will win Mizzou a game or two.
As for Maty, I doubt we'll ever really know the cause for his suspension. Missouri's athletic department is notoriously tight-lipped, this information is staying firmly behind that closed door. I suspect we'll see him transfer somewhere after the completion of this season and Mizzou will wash their hands of the business.
3. Senior tailback Russell Hansbrough is averaging a full yard per carry less than he did in 2014. Is that a function of a weak offensive line, an ineffective passing game, nagging injury, or something else?
D.) All of the above. The ineptitude of the offensive line has certainly made things difficult on Hansbrough, as it would any running back. It's hard to gain positive yards when your first contact comes two yards behind the line of scrimmage. Sustaining an injury during the first game of the season has also hampered the former 1,000-yard back. He's nearing full health - or so we're told - but he doesn't quite look himself just yet. The ineffectiveness of the running game is hurt by the lack of a passing game, which - in turn - is effected by the ineffectiveness of the running game. You see where I'm going here. Missouri's offense is like the circle of life if every step was death.
4. Missouri is currently 6th in the nation in terms of scoring defense. What makes the Tigers so difficult to score on? Which Mizzou players can we expect to see disrupting Vandy quarterback Johnny McCrary's game on Saturday?
New Defensive Coordinator Barry Odom is aggressive as hell. He gets pressure with a combination of his talented defensive line and athletic, blitzing linebackers. Kentrell Brothers might be the best linebacker in the nation - he's the national tackles leader by a margin of 14 - and defensive end Charles Harris leads the SEC in tackles for loss. Harris, Walter Brady, Terry Beckner Jr., and Josh Augusta are going to be the main wide-bodies chasing Johnny around on Saturday, but Brothers and fellow linebacker Donavin Newsom will also spend some time in the backfield. Don't be surprised to see Odom blitz his cornerbacks either.
5. Walter Brady and Charles Harris lead the Tiger defense in sacks this season. Michael Sam and Shane Ray were standouts before them. Is it a prerequisite to have two first names if you want to be an All-SEC Missouri defender?
I wouldn't say that it's an absolute necessity, but it really does help quite a bit. Markus Golden - in my opinion - was the better of the two defensive ends on Missouri's team last season, even though Shane Ray received more accolades. Do you need two first names to do big things as a Mizzou D-lineman? No, not at all. But they do seem to have a direct correlation to post-season honors.
6. Finally, what's your prediction for Saturday's game in Nashville?
I think Missouri is the better team here, but not by much. Honestly, I don't see either offense scoring a touchdown here. I think Mizzou either returns an interception or runs back a kick/punt en route to a 13-6 victory that we all are going to wish we didn't spend four hours watching.