Opponent: Missouri Tigers
Date: October 19 in Nashville
All-time Series Record: Missouri leads, 7-3-1.
Last meeting: Missouri won, 33-28, last year in Columbia. This was Peak Andy Ludwig. With a 28-26 lead in the third quarter, a 44-yard Ke’Shawn Vaughn run set Vanderbilt up first and goal at the 4 with a chance to go up two scores. This was, of course, the time to call three straight runs by Khari Blasingame, predictably leading to a turnover on downs (Ludwig did give the ball to Vaughn on 4th and goal at the 1, which strangely is where I would have recommended giving Blasingame the ball.)
Last year: 8-5, 12th in S&P
Head Coach: Barry Odom (19-19, 4th year)
Missouri was this close to having a breakthrough in Barry Odom’s third year. You could argue that an 8-4 season with a Liberty Bowl appearance was an improvement on Odom’s first two years, but consider that the Tigers lost to South Carolina and Kentucky at the last second. They were a field goal and a questionable pass interference call away from being 10-2, with the losses coming against Alabama and Georgia.
That would have been a memorable season; instead, it looks on paper like the Tigers blew a chance for a huge year. That Missouri finished 12th in S&P+ is a reflection of how good they were.
So what now? The Tigers return leading rusher Larry Rountree, though second-leading rusher Damarea Crockett is off to the NFL. So, too, is deep threat Emanuel Hall, but Johnathan Johnson (who led the team in receptions) is back, as is Albert Okwuegbunam, one of the top tight ends in the country. And Missouri returns three starters on the offensive line.
The biggest question mark on offense, though, is at quarterback. Missouri loses all-timer Drew Lock, which is mitigated by the addition of Clemson graduate transfer Kelly Bryant. Is there a drop off from Lock to Bryant? If no, then Missouri’s offense could be excellent, but let’s remember that the reason Bryant lost the starting job at Clemson wasn’t entirely because of Trevor Lawrence. Bryant is a decent runner but seemed to function as much more of a stereotypical game manager at Clemson, a place that can definitely afford to have an average-ish QB who doesn’t make too many mistakes. But that’s not true at Missouri, which will need Bryant to be a playmaker.
On defense, Missouri struggled to get pressure on the quarterback in 2018 and losing Terez Hall and Terry Beckner Jr. in the front seven won’t help. The good news on that front is that if Missouri can find a way to get pressure, the defensive backfield is experienced.
So, finally, let’s address the elephant in the room. Missouri is (at this time) not eligible for the postseason in 2019 thanks to an academic scandal that has the usual NCAA bashers up in arms because apparently having a tutor do work for student-athletes is a totally normal thing that happens at every school and Missouri shouldn’t have been punished because nobody at the school directed her to do it and they self-reported. Which is a point, but “we know nothing” also happens to be the exact way that schools have long gotten away with blatant cheating. What does that mean for Vanderbilt? Well, the Missouri game — in late October — comes at a time when Missouri might be starting to realize they don’t exactly have a ton to play for other than pride. The flip side to that is that Missouri’s early schedule is such that the Tigers might be 6-0 when they come to Nashville.