PowerMizzou - Notebook: Despite its record, Mizzou bracing for Vanderbilt's best shot
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Notebook: Despite its record, Mizzou bracing for Vanderbilt's best shot

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Last week, as Missouri extended its winning streak to five games and claimed first place in the SEC East standings, things were going the opposite direction in Nashville. Vanderbilt, which will host the Tigers on Saturday, lost by 24 points at home to UNLV, dropping the Commodores’ record to 1-5 on the season.

It’s been an ugly season for Vanderbilt and sixth-year head coach Derek Mason. The Commodores have lost each of their three SEC games, the only team in the East division not to win a game in conference play. The closest of the their five losses has been by 18 points. Their average margin of defeat has been 23.8 points. Vanderbilt ranks among the bottom 25 teams in the country in nearly every major statistical category — scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense and passing defense. Only passing offense, at No. 86, is better than No. 105 nationally.

Yet Missouri head coach Barry Odom is making sure his team doesn’t take its matchup at Vanderbilt, which will kick off at 3 p.m., lightly. Odom believes the Commodores are better than their record indicates.

“Really, they're a play here or there away from from it being completely different,” Odom said of Vanderbilt. “... So we're going to prepare really, really well, and then we need to go play our A-game, because I've got a feeling that’s what we're going to see on the other side."

Despite Vanderbilt's 1-5 record, Missouri head coach Barry Odom (left) expects a challenge from the Commodores.
Despite Vanderbilt's 1-5 record, Missouri head coach Barry Odom (left) expects a challenge from the Commodores. (Jordan Kodner)

It may be the type of rhetoric you expect to hear from a coach about his team’s next opponent, but there is at least some reason to believe Vanderbilt could give Missouri trouble if it puts everything together — at least on offense. Odom noted that Vanderbilt returned eight starters from an offense that pushed Missouri to the brink a season ago. The Tigers ultimately won 33-28. The Commodores feature three likely future NFL Draft picks among their crop of skill players in tight end Jared Pinkney, wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb and running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Odom said he expects to see “heavy doses of all three” on Saturday.

Stopping Vaughn will be the primary concern. Last season, Vaughn rushed for 182 yards and a touchdown against Missouri, averaging more than 12 yards per carry. He also added a touchdown and 14 yards on two catches. Behind Vaughn, Vanderbilt was the only offense all season to average more than five yards per carry against Missouri’s defense last season.

Odom called Vaughn “one of the best running backs in college football.”

“He can go to absolutely any spot on the field, he gets north and south, and he's gone,” Odom said. “And I noticed looking at every clip of film he's a little bit bigger and appears to me, this year, is breaking tackles. So we got our hands full."

Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said if Vanderbilt can Vaughn and the ground game going, it will be able to open up the playbook and find ways to get the ball to Pinkney and Lipscomb through the air.

“Their pass game off of the run actions are creative with routes crossing, guys going back behind the line and also downfield,” Walters said. “We’ve got to do a great job with our eyes, understanding where help’s at and understanding why things are the way they are pre-snap. It’ll be a challenge.”

The good news for the Missouri coaches is that, even though Vanderbilt’s record and statistics have been down this season, they’re confident the Tiger players won’t look past this opponent. The team learned firsthand the danger of not executing against a less-talented opponent in a Week One loss at Wyoming. Odom said he has used that game to drive home his message about staying focused on the opponent at hand and executing until the final whistle blows.

“If you prepare the right way but then you don't go execute, or you walk out and you're minus-three in the turnover margin, then we're not going to win a game,” Odom said. “The margin of error for us, just like it is most every college team in the country right now, you gotta prepare like every game is the same, and ... if you don't, then you're not going to win.

“I wish it was different, that you roll your helmet out there and you win the game because of who you are. But that ain't us."

O-Line finally set in stone?

Nearly every game this season, Missouri has unveiled a new configuration along its offensive line. Against Ole Miss, the unit had perhaps its best game of the season, as it allowed just one sack and two tackles for loss while paving the way for the running game to average 5.4 yards per carry.

Three days later, Odom said the line might have finally found its permanent starters, though he left the door open for possible changes.

“The lineup we had last week, they played our best ball for that group so far this year, and another really good day today at practice,” Odom said. “But also, we’re a snap away from it not being those five, and the other two are still in play.”

From right to left, the starting five of Yasir Durant, Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms, Trystan Colon-Castillo, Case Cook and Larry Borom played every snap against Ole Miss. Durant and Colon-Castillo have been fixtures at the left tackle and center spots, respectively, for two-and-a-half years now. Meanwhile, Wallace-Simms has moved from the right side to the left while Borom has started games at left guard, left tackle and right tackle and Cook has seized the second interior spot. The other two linemen to start games this season, whom Odom referenced, have been tackles Bobby Lawrence and Hyrin White.

Durant said the expectation is for the group to execute like it did Saturday no matter who is in the game, but having the same five players in the same five spots every snap served as a positive.

“We got into a rhythm and we got into situations where we could look next to you and it’s like, ‘alright, I got you,’” Durant said. “So it paid off good for us.”

The Missouri offensive line might finally be set after a lot of early-season shuffling.
The Missouri offensive line might finally be set after a lot of early-season shuffling. (Liv Paggiarino)

Tigers glad to have Plumlee in the rear-view

In the four games following the Wyoming loss, Missouri’s defense had been playing lights-out, especially against the run. The Tigers surrendered 297 yards on the ground to Wyoming but didn’t allow more than 61 yards in a game after that. The unit held West Virginia, SEMO, South Carolina and Troy all under two yards per carry.

Last week, Ole Miss found a bit of success on the ground, especially by running freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee. Plumlee finished the game with 143 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. He also had another long touchdown run called back due to penalty.

While the Tigers surely would have liked to contain Plumlee a bit better, defensive players and coaches are glad they won’t have to face him again this season. Several players praised his running ability, including linebacker Nick Bolton, who called him the fastest quarterback he’s ever played against.

“That’s probably the first time I faced a quarterback that was really that fast,” Bolton said. “He’s elusive. He’s good at what he did and he had a pretty good game versus us.Walters agreed.

“I’ve never played against one that fast,” he said. “The play that got called back, I’m standing kind of in the plane of the line of scrimmage, and as soon as he broke the line, I’m like, ‘He’s gone,’ and sure enough he was. The guy was moving so fast. Ole Miss, they’re gonna be good for a while, especially on offense.”

Wilkins draws mixed reviews in starting debut

One of the focal points of Missouri’s defense during that win over Ole Miss was middle linebacker Cameron Wilkins. The sophomore made his first start in relief of the injured Cale Garrett, who will miss the rest of the season due to a torn pectoral tendon.

After digesting film from the game, Wilkins’ coaches and teammates were largely complimentary of his performance, but they noted that he still has room for improvement.

"He did some really good things, and then also had some learning experiences that hopefully we move past and we gotta do it with some urgency,” Odom said. “(We need) him playing better this week.”

“I feel like he did okay, but obviously we need him to do better,” said safety Joshuah Bledsoe. “But he did good for his first start. I thought he handled it well.”

Wilkins split snaps with junior Jamal Brooks against Ole Miss, and it appears that trend will continue moving forward. On the depth chart Missouri released Tuesday morning, Wilkins and Brooks are now listed as co-starters at middle linebacker.

“For the total body of work I thought he did some really good things for the amount of time that he was on the field,” Odom said. “So, wasn't perfect. But we can play winning football with the way he played the other day."

Injury report

Missouri appears to have emerged from the Ole Miss game without any major new injuries. The one player whose status appears to be in doubt for Saturday’s game is senior punt returner Richaud Floyd.

Floyd left the Tigers’ game against Troy with a hamstring injury and did not dress against Ole Miss. Odom thinks Floyd, who participated in at least part of practice Tuesday, has a chance to return to the field against Vanderbilt.

“He looked better than expected today in practice, so … we'll kind of see how he responds tomorrow after having some activity today,” Odom said. “I would say it looks pretty promising."

If Floyd is unable to play, he will be replaced at punt returner by walk-on redshirt freshman Cade Musser. Last week, senior slot receiver Johnathon Johnson initially replaced Floyd, but he muffed the first punt he saw, which led to an Ole Miss touchdown. Musser fielded the following four punts and returned one for nine yards.