The third SEC East test for Mizzou will be against the Vanderbilt Commodores who struggled heavily last season. Vanderbilt brought in Clark Lea, former Commodore player and defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, to revamp a program that went winless during the SEC-only schedule in 2020.
The Commodores ranked among the bottom of the FBS in points per game (14.6) and points allowed per game (37.3), but close road game losses against Texas A&M and Kentucky demonstrated that the unit was capable of competing with its conference foes.
Lea, new offensive coordinator David Raih and passing coordinator Joey Lynch are splitting first-team reps between returning starting quarterback Ken Seals and Mike Wright, two sophomores who both got game experience last year and can use their legs to make plays. There isn’t a single returning running back with over 100 yards, but Temple transfer Re’mahn Davis racked up 938 rushing yards with the Owls in 2019 and appears to be a leader of the backfield alongside sophomore Rocko Griffin.
All four of the most productive pass-catchers return to the offense: senior wideouts Cam Johnson and Amir Abdul-Rahman, fifth year receiver Chris Pierce and senior tight end Ben Bresnahan combined for over 80% of passing yardage and all 13 passing touchdowns. The group surely will be at the forefront of the Commodores’ passing plans again this year.
The offensive line is getting back two fifth-year seniors who opted out of the 2020 season in Cole Clemens and Bryce Bailey, and returning starting tackles Tyler Steen and Bradley Ashmore will contribute to the growth of an offense that already has a strong foundation.
Defensively, the Commodores will have plenty of new players entering bigger roles. Junior Anfernee Orji led the team in tackles in 2020 and is going to be an anchor at the linebacker position. Players that have impressed during fall practice include LB Elijah McAllister, who missed 2020 because of an injury, defensive linemen Daevion Davis, Malik Langham and Alex Williams.
The secondary loses 2020 opt-out Tae Daley, who led the team with three interceptions in 2019, to Virginia Tech. But the unit, which includes the other three of their top four tacklers from last season in cornerbacks Jaylen Mahoney, Allen George and safety Dashaun Jerkins, will look to improve upon its 2020 mark of 7.28 yards allowed per play, which was second-worst in the FBS.
Vanderbilt will clearly need improvement from both units if they expect a better turnout in 2021, but the returners they bring back signal that taking forward strides is certainly possible, especially on the offensive end. Mizzou will travel to Nashville on October 30, the week following the Tigers’ bye. The Commodores have four athletes nominated to NCFAA watch lists, while none made the Preseason Media Days All-SEC teams.