Missouri at Vanderbilt
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: KMBZ (98.1 FM)
Line: Missouri by 8 1/2
The lowdown: After a 1-5 start, Mizzou (5-5, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) has won four straight and needs just one victory to clinch a bowl berth. Quarterback Drew Lock is playing the best football of his career. Even without sophomore Damarea Crockett, who ran for more than 1,000 yards a season ago, the Tigers have had success on the ground. MU has limited opponents to 16.5 points per game during its winning streak. Yes, that has come against two bad nonconference opponents and two struggling SEC teams — but this is also a defense that allowed Missouri State to score 43 points. Vanderbilt (4-6, 0-6) began the season 3-0 but has stumbled. Only one of the Commodores’ conference losses was a one-score game.
Missouri’s key to success: Win the turnover battle. Vanderbilt should only have a chance against Missouri if the Tigers have self-inflicted mistakes. Coach Barry Odom has said repeatedly during the season that the Tigers’ margin for error is slim, and they’ve made few costly mistakes during the winning streak. In its past two games, MU’s turnover margin was plus-1 and plus-3, the only times all season that Missouri’s opponents have turned the ball over more than the Tigers have. Mizzou will look to continue that streak against Vanderbilt, which is last in the SEC in average turnover margin against conference opponents (minus-1.17 per game).
Vanderbilt’s key to success: Find a way to run the ball effectively. Vanderbilt ranks last in the SEC in yards per rush, and the Commodores will need to do better than that in order to prevent Missouri from focusing its attention on pass defense, which has been the Tiger defense’s greatest weakness this season. Odom called Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb one of the SEC’s best.
Key matchup: Lock vs. the Vanderbilt secondary. The junior quarterback from Lee’s Summit can improve his NFL draft stock with big games to close the season, and he has a real chance to put up the biggest numbers of any quarterback who has faced Vanderbilt this season. In their first five SEC losses, one positive for the Commodores was that none of their opponents completed more than 55.1 percent of their passes, and three of them — Alabama, Florida and Mississippi — completed less than 50 percent of their passes. The Commodores have let up in recent weeks though, as Western Kentucky and Kentucky, Vanderbilt’s past two opponents, completed a combined 68.7 percent of their passes against Vanderbilt. Will Lock be able to continue his string of big games? He’s thrown 18 touchdowns to just three interceptions during the Tigers’ winning streak.
Prediction: Missouri 42, Vanderbilt 21. The Tigers clinch bowl eligibility with relative ease, and they head into a Friday game at Arkansas seeking to improve their resume for the postseason.