Opponent: Missouri Tigers
Date: November 10
All-time series record: Missouri leads, 6-3-1
Last meeting: November 18, 2017, in Nashville. Missouri won, 45-17.
Last year’s record: 7-6, 35th in S&P+
Head coach: Barry Odom (11-14, 3rd year)
Returning starters: 16 (9 offense/7 defense)
The last time Derek Dooley was a college coach of any stripe, it was November 17, 2012. Anchor of Gold readers might remember that game: Jordan Rodgers threw for 245 yards and a couple of touchdowns, Jordan Matthews caught 7 passes for 115 yards and a TD, and Vanderbilt assumed its rightful place in the universe in a 41-18 win over the school to the east.
The next day, Dooley was relieved of his duties. After five years as an assistant coach for the Dallas Cowboys, he’s back in the SEC as Missouri’s offensive coordinator. This is the first time in his life that Dooley has been an offensive coordinator. In his career, he’s been a receivers coach, a tight ends coach (for Nick Saban!), a running backs coach, and a head coach for six years, but never an offensive coordinator.
To say this is a strange hire is an understatement, but how badly can Dooley screw this up? At Missouri, he takes over an offense that average 37.5 ppg and a staggering 7.2 yards per play, and returns one of the top quarterbacks in the country in Drew Lock as one of nine returning starters on the offensive side of the ball. The Tigers lose their top running back and their top wide receiver... but that’s basically it; by my count, all five starters on the line are returning.
A closer look, though, reveals that Missouri feasted a lot on bad defenses and/or teams that had given up on the season. They scored 72 points on Missouri State, 34 on Kentucky, 68 on a hapless Idaho team, 52 on UConn, 45 on Florida in the game after Jim McElwain got fired (when the announcers were openly questioning Florida’s effort during the broadcast), 50 on Tennessee (in Butch Jones’ final game), 45 on Vanderbilt, and 48 on Arkansas. Against better defenses, though, Missouri struggled. The Tigers scored 13 against South Carolina (though they averaged 6.1 yards per play), 3 against Purdue, 14 against Auburn, and 16 against Texas in the bowl game. They did manage to score 28 against Georgia, which sounds good at first glance — but that came while averaging a paltry 3.7 yards per play and getting just 10 first downs.
In short, against bad and/or uninterested defenses, there was no limit on how much Missouri can score — but this offense sort of stunk against actual good defenses. That this team managed to win seven games and score nearly 40 a game seems to be much more of an indictment of the SEC East than anything else.
Defense was much the same story: 16.6 ppg in a five-game stretch starting with the Idaho game, but otherwise, Missouri’s defense got shredded to the tune of 41.4 ppg. Unless your offense was terrible (Idaho and UConn), disinterested (Florida), on its third-string quarterback (Tennessee), or throwing interceptions left and right (us), you were probably going to shred Missouri’s defense. That included otherwise-mediocre offenses from Kentucky (which scored 40 on Missouri) and Arkansas (45.)
This game falls just after Vanderbilt’s bye week on the schedule; for whatever reason, Vanderbilt chose to play nine games in a row before taking a bye week. That could be a godsend if Vanderbilt is fighting for a bowl bid late in the season. I think that to get to six wins, Vanderbilt needs to sweep its three nonconference home games, win two of its four home conference games, and then steal a road win in the three-game stretch of Kentucky, Arkansas, and Missouri. While that win is more likely to come against Kentucky or Arkansas, I wouldn’t count out beating a Missouri team that feels overrated.