COMING THIS WEEK
At the time, a five-point loss at Notre Dame seemed promising for a Vanderbilt program trying to stay relevant in the SEC. Two months later, the Commodores are scrambling to secure bowl eligibility. The Commodores come to Columbia needing to win two of their final three games against Mizzou, Ole Miss and Tennessee to extend the year into bowl season. Vandy played Kentucky close in Lexington and hammered lowly Arkansas on the road but went down by double digits to SEC opponents South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Fifth-year coach Derek Mason, 22-36 in five seasons, came to Nashville with a pristine defensive background, but Vandy checks in at No. 12 in the SEC in total defense (No. 79 nationally) and No. 13 in the SEC against the run (No. 99). The Commodores aren’t terribly disruptive on defense with just 15 sacks, 45 tackles for loss and 28 passes defended, all among the SEC’s worst. Vandy’s next winning season will be its first under Mason, whose only bowl team came in 2016, when a loss to North Carolina State in the Independence Bowl left the Dores 6-7. With Vandy set to hire a new athletics director, Mason could be coaching for his job these final three weeks.
PLAYER TO WATCH
After a promising freshman season at Illinois in 2015, running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn became a backup the next season, after which the former four-star prospect decided he had enough of the Illini. The Nashville native moved home and joined Mason’s program. After sitting out the 2017 season, he’s become one of the SEC’s most explosive backs this season with a league-best five 40-yard yard runs. As part of a three-man rotation his carries have been limited in some games, but he’s one of the league’s most efficient runners: He’s averaged at least 8 yards per carry in four games, including conference games against Florida and Georgia.
HE SAID IT
“Last time they were on the field they played their best ball and scored a ton of points at Arkansas and ran away with the game. I know we’ll get their best shot in all three phases.” — Barry Odom on Vanderbilt
Three Missouri players who missed all or parts of Saturday’s game at Florida returned to practice Tuesday: cornerback Adam Sparks (shin), defensive tackle Kobie Whiteside (lower leg) and tight end Kendall Blanton (knee). Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, MU’s leading receiver with 43 catches, left Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury and missed Tuesday’s practice. Same for tailback Tyler Badie, who came out of the Florida game with a sprained foot. “I want to see how close or far away they are,” Odom said Tuesday. “Game-plan wise we’re hoping to get them back but we’ll know more (Wednesday).”
The Tigers have the edge against Vandy 6-3-1 in a series that dates back to the 19th Century. Missouri won the first two meetings in 1895 and 1896, followed by a tie in 1957 and a Vanderbilt win in 1958. The series resumed when Mizzou joined the SEC in 2012 and the Tigers have won four of six in conference play, including the last two, a 26-17 victory in Columbia in 2016, Odom’s first SEC win, and last year’s 45-17 win in Nashville.