NASHVILLE, Tenn. – After playing at Vanderbilt Stadium, visiting players step out of their locker room and must walk the entire length of the field to climb aboard their team bus outside the stadium. After a rare Commodores victory, this ritual becomes a 100-yard walk of shame for their guests.
As it was Saturday night for the Missouri Tigers, the nationally-ranked-but-not-for-long Missouri Tigers, the 21-point favored Missouri Tigers, the division-leading Missouri Tigers.
But Barry Odom’s Tigers left their claws and fangs back in Boone County and looked nothing like the ferocious cats that ran off a five-game winning streak at home. Instead, they played what might have been their worst game of the four-year Odom regime.
Here’s a score nobody outside of Vanderbilt’s locker room saw coming: Vandy 21, Mizzou 14.
Call it the Nashville Nightmare.
“I think we got outcoached and I think we got out-executed the entire four quarters,” Odom said. “We could not run the ball, which was frustrating to me that that we couldn't. We didn't convert near enough on our third downs to give ourselves a chance. And then defensively I felt like we were close we just couldn’t get off the field. And you look at 120 yards of penalties. We won't beat anybody when we do that.”
Otherwise, Barry, how was the rest of your Saturday?
This one didn’t start like the Tigers’ woeful season-opening loss at Wyoming — a game Mizzou led 14-0 early — but ended just the same. That night the Tigers were an 18-point favorite. This one, too, was on the road, but Mizzou had as many fans, maybe more, in the crowd of 23,900.
By night’s end, Missouri (5-2, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) was still tied for first place in the SEC East, but considering what unfolded for three hours in Nashville, the Tigers looked nothing like a division contender. Those dreams of Atlanta were fun while they lasted. With so much at stake, the Tigers might have banned themselves from the SEC championship game before the NCAA appeals committee has any say in the matter.
Like a Nashville bachelorette party gone wrong, the Tigers’ good times were short-lived and they left evidence splattered all over the field. They couldn’t block on the line of scrimmage against the SEC’s worst rush defense. They couldn’t control their emotions and instead littered the field with flags. Quarterback Kelly Bryant tried to create plays with his legs and struggled to find receivers open downfield. Running back Larry Rountree could barely get past through the point of attack. A Mizzou offense that put up 562 yards against Ole Miss a week ago mustered only 293 against one of the worst defenses in the Power Five conferences. Against the same Vandy team that Nevada-Las Vegas trampled 34-10 last week, Mizzou had five three-and-out possessions and punted a season-high seven times.
Mizzou’s running backs gained just 81 yards on 24 carries, putting stress on a passing game that couldn't unlock Vandy’s mixture of coverages.
“Like we've been saying, games are won in the trenches,” tight end Albert Okwuegubunam said. “When we're not executing in the run game it immediately makes the game a lot harder.”
Bryant did most of his damage on the ground with 72 rushing yards but never looked comfortable in the pocket. He botched a visit to the red zone with an interception and otherwise hesitated to pull the trigger on downfield passes. He completed 13 of 26 passes for a season-low 140 yards and was sacked three times.
“It could have been me getting outside the pocket a little bit too early and not fully going through (my reads),” Bryant said. “I feel like I’ve got to stay in the pocket and know when to scramble and when not to scramble.”
“I felt like offensively overall, we weren't very good,” Odom said. “That's all 11 guys. The opportunity to connect on downfield throws, we weren't there. We were off. Credit to (Vanderbilt) because they made us off and we weren't good enough to overcome that.”
A season-high 12 penalties and two missed field goals compounded the Tigers’ issues, especially in the fourth quarter.
A Cameron Wilkins’ interception and 42-yard return deep inside Vandy territory set up Mizzou’s game-tying score, a 6-yard Rountree run late in the third quarter. But the fourth quarter was all Vandy. With walk-on quarterback and surprise starter Mo Hasan knocked out of the game on a illegal hit to the head by safety Tyree Gillespie, Riley Neal came off the bench to lead a seven-play, 65-yard touchdown drive, connecting with Cam Johnson on the go-ahead pass, helped by a whiff along the sideline by cornerback Jarvis Ware.
Missouri still had nine minutes left to even the score but couldn’t get closer than the Vandy 25-yard line. A third-down sack gave Tucker McCann a 48-yard field goal attempt, but he pushed it left.
The Tigers still had two timeouts left and six minutes on the clock, but the Commodores salted the game away with an 11-play drive, including a third-down conversion when Mizzou lineman Jordan Elliott jumped offsides. Workhorse running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn had eight of his 29 carries on the clinching series.
“I’m so proud of this team just in terms of how they stayed in the fight for what it was,” Vandy coach Derek Mason said. “We talked about the grind all week. We understood exactly where we were. Sometimes it’s just about drowning out the noise.”
That noise is sure to make its way to Columbia where the Tigers have to regroup before next week’s trip to Kentucky, a team that’s unbeaten against Odom in three meetings.
"We better rally around the opportunity to continue to move forward," Odom said, "because if we don't then the next week we’re going to be sitting here playing Kentucky. What are we gonna do? Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us."