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Vanderbilt 21, Missouri 14: The defense was the real story

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The quarterback switch got all the attention, but the defense played its best game of the season.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Five Factors box score

Five Factors Vanderbilt Missouri
Five Factors Vanderbilt Missouri
Plays 61 66
Total Yards 315 293
Yards Per Play 5.2 4.4
Rushing Attempts 41 37
Rushing Yards 154 171
Rushing YPP 3.8 4.6
Passing Attempts 20 29
Passing Yards 161 122
Passing YPP 8.1 4.2
Rushing Success Rate 36.60% 40.50%
Passing Success Rate 30.00% 27.60%
Success Rate 34.40% 34.80%
Avg. Field Position 25 31
PP40 5.25 2.8
Turnovers 1 1

The Vanderbilt Commodores had a new quarterback on Saturday. Mo Hasan got his first career start, and did okay under the circumstances.

Still, the offense was only mildly improved. 5.2 yards per play is hardly anything to write home about, and a 34.4 percent success rate is actually bad. The reason why that was enough to win was because the defense had easily its best game of the year, and probably its best since the Tennessee game last year. But that performance came against a woeful team that was ready for the season to be over; this was against a Top 25 squad.

Did Jason Tarver moving up to the booth make that much of a difference? I don’t know, but my guess is that he won’t be on the sidelines again. Vanderbilt’s defense was merely okay against the run on Saturday; Missouri did have a 40.5 percent success rate on the ground, but the real difference is that Vanderbilt was able to prevent big plays. Meanwhile, Missouri only had five pass plays for ten yards or more.

And this performance really had shades of the 2015 and 2016 defenses. Missouri’s offense generated four scoring chances (a fifth was gifted them by the defense, which returned a Riley Neal interception down to the Vanderbilt 6 and Missouri punched it in one play later.) But Vanderbilt managed to hold once Missouri got close to the goal line, forcing two field goal attempts (both missed) and snagging an interception in the end zone. Basically four long drives by Missouri resulted in seven points. And aside from the missed field goals, Missouri also repeatedly shot itself in the foot with penalties. That isn’t to say that Missouri beat itself — after all, Vanderbilt last week probably would have given up touchdowns on those long drives — but Vanderbilt actually managed to have some breaks go its way for once, and the game was close enough for that to matter.

And, of course, this was a far, far better performance than anyone expected. It’s certainly a negative that it took until the seventh game for the team we thought we’d see to show up; but incredibly, Vanderbilt’s November schedule is such that a bowl game is at least possible with four more performances like we saw on Saturday.

Individual Stats

Passing stats

Passing Comp Att Comp % Yds TD INT Sacks Yds Lost Net Yds Success Rate YPP
Passing Comp Att Comp % Yds TD INT Sacks Yds Lost Net Yds Success Rate YPP
Mo Hasan 7 11 63.60% 120 1 0 1 4 116 25.00% 9.7
Riley Neal 3 8 37.50% 45 1 1 0 0 45 37.50% 5.6

Rushing stats

Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Ke'Shawn Vaughn 29 96 3.3 1 31.00%
Mo Hasan 8 38 4.8 0 37.50%
Riley Neal 2 14 7 0 100.00%
Keyon Brooks 2 6 3 0 50.00%

Receiving stats

Receiving Targets Catches Yds TD Catch Rate Yds/Target Yds/Catch Success Rate
Receiving Targets Catches Yds TD Catch Rate Yds/Target Yds/Catch Success Rate
Ke'Shawn Vaughn 5 4 80 1 80.00% 16 20 60.00%
Kalija Lipscomb 5 1 34 0 20.00% 6.8 34 20.00%
Jared Pinkney 3 2 14 0 66.70% 4.7 7 33.30%
Justice Shelton-Mosley 2 1 8 0 50.00% 4 8 0.00%
Cam Johnson 1 1 21 1 100.00% 21 21 100.00%
Chris Pierce 1 1 8 0 100.00% 8 8 0.00%
James Bostic 1 0 0 0 0.00% 0 0.00%

Really, the offense was the Ke’Shawn Vaughn show, though Mo Hasan played quite a part in the offense. Vaughn got 29 carries and 5 targets in the passing game, and those 34 plays resulted in 176 yards of total offense. The strange part of that is that the other 27 plays actually did about as well on a per-play average.

In a sense, the quarterback switch “worked” because Vanderbilt abandoned the passing game except when it was absolutely necessary. And, well, because Mo Hasan presented a running threat that isn’t there with Riley Neal or Deuce Wallace. How it took the coaching staff seven games to arrive at the conclusion that the offense would be at its most effective with Hasan quarterbacking the team, we’ll never know. Of course, the offense wasn’t actually good on Saturday; the defense simply performed much, much better...+

Notes

  • Aside from the obvious change, there were a few other changes in the starting lineup. Johnathan Stewart got the start at right tackle, replacing Tyler Steen (who still played, by the way, so this wasn’t a change forced by injury.) Also, Cam Johnson got the start at WR; Vanderbilt opened in a two-TE set so it was Johnson and Lipscomb. On defense, Cameron Tidd returned to the starting lineup, replacing Daevion Davis (who, uh, didn’t play at all.) And Tae Daley was back in the starting lineup at safety.
  • True freshman watch: Jaylen Mahoney and Keyon Brooks (who aren’t redshirting.) Anfernee Orji played in what I think is his fourth game, which would mean he’s out of games if the staff wants to redshirt him. And that’s it.

What’s Next

Vanderbilt has a bye week before playing at South Carolina on November 2. Vanderbilt has not beaten South Carolina since 2008.