Here are some quick thoughts on Vanderbilt’s 10-3 win against Missouri in Nashville on Saturday afternoon:
What it means: Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason can feel the relief of the weight of that gigantic monkey being taken off his back. For the first time in 12 tries, Mason has secured a SEC victory. And in form true to his coaching style, it was thanks to a tremendous defensive effort. Now at 3-4, there is some light at the end of the tunnel for a team that finished 3-9 last season. As for the Tigers, this officially signals the end of their reign as the SEC East champions, dropping them to the 1-4 in SEC play.
What I liked:
- Vanderbilt’s decision to start true freshman Kyle Shurmur at quarterback. The Commodores offense was in serious need of a boost, and Johnny McCrary had simply turned the ball over too many times during the season’s first six games to retain the spot. McCrary still saw action, including key drives in the fourth quarter, but it was good to see Derek Mason give his talented freshman a chance to show what he had to offer as an alternative.
- The play of both of these defenses. Both appeared as good as advertised, with yards, first downs and points very hard to come by.
- With his offense having all kinds of trouble moving the football, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel made a gutsy call that paid off, dialing up a fake punt from his own 27 that resulted in a 26-yard run for Tigers punter Corey Fatony.
- Vanderbilt found creative ways to get the ball in the hands of former defensive back Darrius Sims. The junior lined up in multiple spots in various formations, finishing with nine rushes for 58 yards and two catches for 29 yards. It was the type of usage the team has hoped to get out of Sims this season, but failed to do so several times early in the season.
- Commodores offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig controlled the tempo of the game with his run-first gameplan, nearly doubling Missouri in time of possession.
What I didn’t like:
- The officials’ decision to allow Missouri to retain possession after an apparent fumble on the game’s opening kickoff return. From my view, there was clear video evidence that it was a fumble. The replay official disagreed, deciding that the play should stand as called. Vanderbilt would have recovered the ball deep in Missouri territory. It was one of several plays that were put under review during what turned out to be rough game for the officiating crew.
- All week the discussion about this game centered around the strength of both defenses relative to the weakness of the league’s bottom two scoring offenses. That was expected to make for a tough game to watch for the casual fan, and it certainly played out on the field.
- Much like I credited Derek Mason for trying something different in giving QB Kyle Shurmur the start instead of Johnny McCrary, I think it is past time that Gary Pinkel try something to shake up the Missouri offense. It was as stagnant as ever on Saturday, with true freshman QB Drew Lock continuing to struggle putting points on the board in place of suspended QB Maty Mauk.
- Missouri RB Russell Hansbrough has dealt with an ankle injury this season, but the senior looked like a shell of the player that ran for more than 1,000 yards last season. He ran for just eight yards on 12 carries against Vanderbilt.
- The Missouri offense was very bad on third downs, going 0-for-14 on the day.
- With an opportunity to seal a win for Vanderbilt with just under two minutes remaining, kicker Tommy Openshaw missed a 32-yard field goal. It was his second missed field goal attempt of the game.
Who’s the man: Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason. A tip of the hat to the second-year coach for finally getting into the win column in SEC play. Mason, who also serves as the Commodores defensive coordinator, showed why he is considered one of the nation’s best defensive minds, holding Missouri to three points and 188 yards of offense.
Key play: Trailing by seven points late in the fourth quarter, Missouri freshman Cam Hilton muffed a punt return, which cost the Tigers a chance an opportunity to drive to tie the game. Vanderbilt’s LaDarius Wiley recovered the ball on the Missouri 28, which led to Vanderbilt running the clock down under two minutes before missing a 32-yard field goal.
What’s next: The Commodores will travel to Houston for their final nonconference game of the season, lining up against a Cougars team that appears to be one of the best non-Power 5 teams in the country. Meanwhile, Missouri will retreat to a Week 9 bye before hosting Mississippi State in a Thursday night game to kick off Week 10.