Missouri football: 5 things I want to see at Vanderbilt
Coach Barry Odom did his best this week to promote Vanderbilt amid its struggling season, but Missouri faces a case of holding its attention this week as a 3-touchdown favorite in Nashville. Odom is undefeated against Vanderbilt, and last year’s 33-28 decision was the closest result of them all.
This 5-1 record is Mizzou’s best start since the 2013 season when it started 7-0 en route to a 12-2 record, SEC East title and the nation’s No. 5 ranking. The Tigers have won 6 consecutive SEC games, the 2nd-longest active streak among SEC teams (only Alabama’s 13 straight is longer). It’s also Mizzou’s longest active streak since 2014 when it won 6 consecutive and won the SEC East title.
Here are 5 things I want to see Saturday:
Stay hot, stay in driver’s seat in SEC East
Odom earned a nickname as Mr. November for his teams rallying down the stretch after slow starts in recent seasons. This year is different because Missouri (2-0) is in first place in the SEC East, and the race is muddied following Georgia’s upset loss to South Carolina.
Missouri still has a road game at Georgia, and Florida in Columbia, but this will be a barometer in the sense that Missouri should take care of this game easily, but will it?
The Tigers are looking to win their 6th consecutive game, which would match their longest winning streak since the 2017 season when they won their final 6 regular season games. The reward came this week with a No. 22 ranking in the Associated Press poll.
Throw in a bye week between Kentucky and Georgia, and Mizzou is about to start a long time away from home. The Tigers will go 35 days between home games before hosting Florida. This is the first step on what will be a marathon road swing. It’s important to get off on the right foot.
Keep the offense rolling
Mizzou is facing a defensive-minded coach and an increasingly desperate team that could easily rally around its coach who faced questions this week about staff changes and job security.
Last week’s 38-27 win over Ole Miss made the streak 11 games that Mizzou has scored at least 31 points, dating to last season. That is the longest streak for Mizzou since a 14-game span from 2006-07 and the nation’s 2nd-longest active streak of scoring 30+ (Oklahoma has 16).
Different producers each week
As Dawson Downing rumbled down the field last week against Ole Miss and eventually muscled his way into the end zone on a 54-yard touchdown, Tigers fans came out of their seats. But it was just the latest example of a different player contributing each week. Remember, Downing is the 3rd-string running back.
How about in the passing game? Against the Rebels, 9 players caught at least 1 pass, led by Johnathon Johnson, who had 8 catches for 110 yards.
“It’s a coin toss, for real, because you never really know where (Kelly Bryant’s) going with the ball,” Johnson said. “He always spreads it out … Coach Dooley does a great job of spreading the ball around and calling the right plays.”
Defensive calling card
The Ole Miss game (27 points) is an outlier as the Mizzou defense has allowed an average of fewer than 12 points in the past 5 games (7, 0, 14, 10).
The national ranks are as follows:
- No. 4: Yards per pass (5.0)
- No. 4: Passing defense (154.7)
- No. 6: Total defense (262.7)
- No. 6: Yards per play (4.04)
At his regular press conference this week, Odom explained what’s been the catalyst for the improvement.
“I would say experience in the scheme,” he said. “That’s a big part of it, but also (we) worked on a lot of different things this year that we didn’t do last year just schematically. Our guys have been great learners, but our staff has done a really good job on teaching. But then we’ve got some confidence because we have made plays.
“We understand and trust the way that it’s called and what the job that each person has to do on that and they worked really hard to build the trust within each other and the belief that it is going to work. Then, the habits are aligning to give us much that we are playing with confidence and when you play with confidence and you play fast.”
Strong 1st quarter
Mizzou has outscored opponents 82-14 in the 1st quarter, and that includes the Wyoming loss when the Tigers led 14-0. Ole Miss outscored Mizzou 7-3 in the opening frame last week, but the Tigers scored just 5 plays into the 2nd quarter.
It’s not just offense, either.
The defense has allowed just an average of 53 yards in the 1st quarter this season and has forced a 3-and- out on 5 of its opponents 6 opening drives.