Mizzou football comes off its bye week with a road game against the Vanderbilt Commodores, a matchup of the only SEC teams without a conference win.
Vanderbilt has struggled in head coach Clark Lea’s first year with the team. Vandy almost knocked off South Carolina in Columbia three weeks ago, but a late Gamecocks touchdown inside a minute remaining in the fourth quarter sealed a 21-20 South Carolina win. That was Mike Wright’s first game of the year as starting quarterback, playing in place of previous starter Ken Seals.
Wright will draw the start again this week, confirmed by Lea earlier this week as Seals continues to recover from a finger injury. Wright has completed 34 of his 61 passes on the season with two touchdowns and three interceptions, but he’s yet to lead the Commodores to a victory.
Mizzou and Vanderbilt have both suffered from rough defensive outputs, each coming in at the bottom of the SEC in points allowed per game. Vanderbilt’s 35.4 points allowed per game comes in just below the Tigers’ mark of 37.1, good for 123rd of 130 teams in the FBS.
Steve Wilks emphasized in Tuesday’s press conference that he wants to see his guys play sound, fundamental football, the focus of practice this week versus applying any additional schematic changes.
“It’s just, more or less, we gotta get off blocks,” Wilks said. “We gotta use our hands. We gotta make sure our eyes are in the right spot. Again, it’s going back to the fundamentals of the game. And you can sit here and come up with several different schemes, but the bottom line is we gotta go out and execute.”
Vanderbilt hasn’t shown the propensity to take advantage of Missouri’s weakness in defending the run, as they’re currently second-to-last in the SEC by averaging just under 100 rushing yards per game. Rocko Griffin and Re’Mahn Davis dominate touches on the ground, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see offensive coordinator David Raih call a more run-oriented game based on the matchup. Wright is also capable of running the ball himself.
But, if they do choose to attack through the air, look for sophomore Will Sheppard to cause the damage. He’s taken a massive leap as the leading pass catcher alongside Chris Pierce and Cam Johnson, and the spread offense look that Vanderbilt presents has given Missouri trouble in the past this season, notably against Tennessee.
It doesn’t help that the Tigers are facing a mountain of injuries going into Nashville. In addition to losing Case Cook and Chris Turner for the year, Mookie Cooper will miss his fifth game of the season, and Ish Burdine, Shawn Robinson, Johnny Walker and Chance Luper are all doubtful. Mike Maietti, Kris Abrams-Draine, Allie Green IV, Barrett Banister and Akial Byers are also listed as questionable.
This leaves the Missouri secondary in a thin spot, especially considering that they’re also without Ennis Rakestraw. Freshman DJ Jackson will get a lot more playing time as a defensive back, and Wyoming transfer Chuck Hicks and freshman Dameon Wilson were both mentioned by Wilks as guys who could see the field more this weekend. Senior Jatorian Hansford may be utilized more on the defensive line as well.
“We have who we have,” head coach Eliah Drjnkwitz said on Tuesday. “And we’ve got to improve technique and fundamentals. That’s the biggest thing, like, it’s technique and fundamentals driven. We’ve got to approve in our techniques, we’ve got to improve on our fundamentals within the scheme of what we’re trying to run. And we got to look at, okay, are these the best calls? And it may draw up good, but it may not fit our players.”
Vanderbilt hasn’t defeated a Power 5 program since October 2019 when the Commodores knocked off a 22nd-ranked Missouri team at home. Mizzou blew out Vandy 41-0 at home last year, but with the adversity that the Tigers face from an injury standpoint, this road game sets up to be a challenging one. Kickoff is at 2 p.m. at Vanderbilt Stadium, and the game will be televised on SEC Network.