Missouri is heading out on the road again, and it has been a while.
Not since their Week 1 trip to Wyoming have the Tigers left the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium, and a lot has happened since that calamitous season opener.
Headed into Week 8 of the college football season, Missouri (5-1, 2-0 SEC) is playing some of the best football it has played under head coach Barry Odom and will travel to Nashville on a five-game winning streak while sitting atop the SEC East division standings. Saturday’s meeting with Vanderbilt (1-5, 0-3) shouldn’t pose the Tigers with any more issues than previous opponents have (save for Wyoming) and will allow Missouri a chance to get re-acclimated to playing on the road.
It’s been a brutal year for the Commodores and sixth-year head coach Derek Mason. Vanderbilt’s lone victory came Sept. 28 in a tight, 24-18 win over a fledgling Northern Illinois team with just two wins of its own this fall. And while Mason’s squad has taken expected losses to SEC foes No. 10 Georgia and No. 4 LSU, there have also been some embarrassing defeats; just last week Vanderbilt fell 34-10 at home to the Mountain West’s UNLV.
Odom is yet to lose to the Commodores in his three seasons in charge, and the Tigers have not been defeated by a Vanderbilt team since 2015. The only common opponent between the teams this fall so far has been Ole Miss. The Tigers took care of the visitors from Mississipi last Saturday 38-27; the Commodores, on the other hand, were walloped by Ole Miss 31-6 on Oct. 5.
But while Vanderbilt has struggled as a team in 2019, it still has several players to keep an eye on Saturday.
Running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn is off to a tremendous start in his final season of college football. The redshirt senior from Nashville is on pace to have his second straight 1,200-yard season, with 607 yards through six games, and has also scored a team-leading five touchdowns. Both this year and last year, Odom called Vaughn one of the best running backs in the country.
Tight end Jared Pinkney could cause problems for Missouri, too. Despite his slow start this fall, the redshirt senior’s size – he stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 255 pounds – makes him a threat to opposing defenses. Against the Tigers at Memorial Stadium last fall, Pinkney hauled in five catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.
“Pinkney is a matchup problem,” Odom said Tuesday.
Receiver Kalija Lipscomb is another Commodore who found success against Missouri’s secondary last season. The senior from New Orleans made eight catches for 99 yards and a touchdown in Vanderbilt’s 33-28 loss in Columbia last November. After finishing third in the SEC with 916 receiving yards a year ago, Lipscomb is averaging more than 11 yards per reception this fall and leads his team in receiving yards with 337.
The quarterback position remains a point of concern for Vanderbilt midway through the season, and Mason announced this week that there is an open competition for the starting job.
Riley Neal, a graduate transfer from Ball State, started the first six games of the season but has done little to impress, throwing just four touchdowns to three interceptions. Now entering the fray is redshirt junior Deuce Wallace, who did not play last season due to suspension. Mason has not yet announced a starter.
Unlike Ole Miss, which played two quarterbacks who served two different roles against the Tigers a week ago, Vanderbilt’s offense will likely run through Vaughn, regardless of who is under center.
Missouri put on one of its best offensive performances of the season against Ole Miss, and Saturday’s game in Nashville will provide it with another opportunity to put up similarly gaudy numbers. Of the 130 FBS teams, Vanderbilt ranks 124th in total defense, allowing 482.7 yards per game. The Commodores have also allowed more than 200 rushing yards per game, meaning Larry Rountree III and the rest of Missouri’s running backs will have a chance to run wild.
The Tigers should have no problem leaving Nashville with a win. Missouri is better in every facet, save for maybe running back, but it will be hard for the Commodores to move the ball against Missouri’s stout defense, and Vanderbilt’s defense has not yet shown the capability to stop just about anyone this fall.
If everything goes to plan for Missouri, this game will be over by halftime, and Odom can turn his focus toward his next opponent, Kentucky, a team he has never beaten.
Supervising editor is Joe Noser.