Missouri wants to prove that it belongs in the SEC and can compete in the nation’s best football conference.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Well, good SEC teams generally go to Vanderbilt and win. That’s the bottom line.
So, with the Tigers’ goal in mind and the desire to begin proving last year’s 2-6 record conference play was the exception rather than the rule, anything less than a victory will be disappointing.
And that’s how it should be against a program whose coach — oddly enough, he’s named James Franklin just like Missouri’s senior quarterback — is begging people to show up for the game at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Nashville, Tenn.
The Tigers, 4-0, would need only one win in the final seven games to become bowl eligible with a victory against the Commodores.
With a win, Missouri would also match last season’s win total and erase the sour taste of a 19-15 defeat a year ago.
One more thing, Tigers fans should be grateful for KCTV (Ch. 5), which will has picked up the game since it’s slated for Comcast Sports South (a channel unavailable locally).
KSMO broadcast last week’s game, but there’s a conflict with Sporting KC. However, other parts of the state, most notably St. Louis, aren’t going to get the game distributed throughout the market.
Fortunately, that won’t be an issue here in KC.
Of course, that’s only if any Missouri fans stick around town rather than buzz over to Nashville, where the Chiefs take an identical 4-0 record into a showdown with the Jake Locker-less Titans on Sunday.
We lobbed a couple softballs in the direction of Jeff Lockridge, who cover Vanderbilt for The Tennessean in Nashville, and he happily knocked them out of the park for us. You can check out Lockridge’s pregame coverage at Tennessean.com and follow him on Twitter.
Let’s get to it:
Q: Most of the buzz surrounding Vanderbilt swirls around senior wide receiver Jordan Matthews. Can he be stopped or at least contained? How does Vanderbilt utilize Matthews (6-3, 206) and what makes him such a special player?
A: Containing Matthews is a challenge. Defensive coordinators have to be willing to double-team him or at least provide bracket coverage to keep him from running free over the top, and the cornerbacks on Matthews can’t be afraid to get physical with him. Vandy will use him as a deep threat, as a third-down possession guy, as the first-down target for a slant or a receiver screen, and just about anything in between.
He’ll line up wide most of the time, but he may move to the slot on occasion if offensive coordinator John Donovan thinks he can get a match-up on a safety or nickelback. As far as why Matthews is special, I’ll point to three things: 1. He knows how to use his body/arms and his route-running to create the best angles for him to get the ball and keep defenders away from it; 2. He wants the ball in his hands on every play; and 3. He has the best practice habits of anyone on this team and has since his sophomore season. He is the example that coaches point to when they say you play how you practice.
Q: When asking Missouri’s coaches about Vanderbilt’s defense, the most oft-quoted word seems to be disciplined. Who are the Commodores’ top playmakers on that 4-3 defense and what’s the plan for handling for the Tigers’ big receiving corps?
A: The defense has begun to come together the last couple of weeks after a rocky start to the year (though it’s worth noting that those recent successes have come against UMass and UAB, not SEC opponents). Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop preaches to stop the run, take away the ball and eliminate big plays. Vandy has been willing to give up yards and first downs, especially to offenses that execute a short passing game. The Commodores have struggled with quarterbacks that run out of the read-option, whether it has been breakdowns on the part of the defensive ends, outside linebackers or safeties.
That’s one reason why Missouri’s James Franklin is a concern. Vandy has four seniors starting in the secondary and a pair of pretty physical cornerbacks in Andre Hal and Steven Clarke. I think the strategy will be to get physical with Dorian Green-Beckham and frustrate him, if that’s possible, while limiting Franklin’s time to sit in the pocket. Sophomore Darreon Herring has emerged as the top playmaker of a young linebacker corps that has been hurt by injuries. Safety Kenny Ladler is one of the aforementioned seniors in the secondary who makes things happen. Defensive tackle Vince Taylor is the first guy the Tigers will want to keep out of the backfield.
Q: Is there any "James Franklin" confusion going on in Nashville? How will Vanderbilt coach James Franklin try to stop Missouri quarterback James Franklin? And how does Austyn Carta-Samuels compare to the Tigers’ quarterback as a dual-threat guy?
A: Vandy fans, and the Commodores’ third-year coach, had some fun with the name game last year, but it seems to have run its course. The plan — or perhaps the hope — is to keep Franklin contained as much as possible. The last thing Vandy wants to see is Franklin outside the tackle box with the option to pass or tuck the ball for 15 yards while being chased by someone slower.
It will be interesting to see how the defense handles Missouri’s up-tempo, spread look. Ole Miss utilizes a similar system and, while it throws more than Missouri likes to do, it marched up and down the field against Vandy in the season opener in Nashville. In terms of Carta-Samuels, he’s got some quick feet and can throw pretty well on the run, but he’s not generally looking to tuck the ball and turn up once he’s flushed from the pocket unless he needs to move the chains on a third down.
Q: Is there a chance Vanderbilt/Missouri can become a thing? Are the Tigers anything more than curiosity to Commodores fans or is there room for a budding rivalry? Also, how critical is this game for Vandy considering the 0-2 start to SEC play?
A: I’m not sure about the prospects for a genuine rivalry. Anything along those lines would have to stem from some more close games and perhaps an incident or two on the field that creates some disdain. Vandy has an in-state rivalry with Tennessee that has heated up recently with the Vols’ steady SEC slippage and, of course, that blowout loss to the Commodores in Nashville last year.
That said, this game is critical for Vandy. It is the biggest "coin-flip game" left on the schedule, and one the Commodores need after losing another home game I considered a toss-up with Ole Miss. Saturday is the difference between Vandy knowing it will reach a third consecutive bowl game and hoping it can reach a third consecutive bowl game. There are three more games on the schedule this team should win (Kentucky, at UT, Wake Forest), but there would be no margin for error with a loss to Missouri.
Q: For Missouri fans traveling to Nashville for the game, and I suspect more than a few will with the unbeaten Chiefs also playing the Titans in Nashville this weekend, is there anything unique or special about the game-day experience at Vanderbilt those fans should be sure to check out? Any points of interest (or watering holes) worth stopping in at after the game?
A: Other than home fans tailgating in the "Vandyville" area and Vandy players taking part in their pre-game "Star Walk," there’s not much to speak of in terms of a unique game-day experience. Depending on your interests, there are plenty of places to see and stops to make before and after the game. Right across from Vandy on the other side of West End Avenue is Nashville’s replica of the Parthenon and Centennial Park, a good place to take a stroll and enjoy the weather.
If you’re looking for a beverage within a mile or two of campus, Broadway Brewhouse, South Street and Sam’s Sports Bar in Hillsboro Village are among many solid options. To take in more of the country music scene and nightlife, fans should make the short trip down Broadway toward downtown and Second Avenue, where some nightclubs and bars are located. On the way, you’ll pass numerous, famous dives with the sounds of local country acts coming through the doors.
The Music City Center (Nashville’s brand new convention center) and the Country Music Hall of Fame are located just south of Bridgestone Arena, home to the Nashville Predators and the city’s primary concert venue. LP Field, home of the Titans, is just on the other side of the river. A good watering hole downtown is the Flying Saucer next to Union Station. As far as eats go, if you stop by Rotier’s for a cheeseburger on French bread and a milkshake, or swing by Jack’s Bar-B-Que for some brisket and sausage, you’ve done good for yourself.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.