COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri hosts Vanderbilt Saturday in one of just three more opportunities for Tigers coach Barry Odom to secure his first Southeastern Conference victory at the helm of his alma mater.
The Tigers (2-7, 0-5 SEC) are coming off a 31-21 loss at South Carolina in which turnovers helped cost them the game. The Gamecocks outscored Missouri 14-0 in points off turnovers, winning the turnover battle 3-0 with two interceptions and one recovery of three fumbles.
"We’ve got to continue to work," Odom said. "There are not going to be many times that this team can be minus three and have a chance to win a game."
With bowl eligibility out of the question, Missouri players are finding alternative motivation as they approach the final three games on their schedule, which include Tennessee and Arkansas after Vanderbilt.
"We’ve got to get Coach Odom his first SEC victory," linebacker Eric Beisel said. "That’s just plain and simple."
The Commodores (4-5, 1-5) lost 23-16 at Auburn last week but remained in the game late after linebacker Zach Cunningham blocked a 35-yard field goal attempt that would’ve made it a two-score game. Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason was encouraged by the team’s resilience on the road.
"Our guys have some confidence coming out of that game," Mason said. "We’ve been able to go into hostile places and play pretty solid all year long. This group continues to get better; we just need to limit the lapses in execution."
Missouri players feel the same way as they try to secure a win for Odom.
"I just want to help send the rest of the guys out on some (wins) and help the younger guys realize it’s not always about having a winning season," linebacker Donavin Newsom said. "Of course you want to have a winning season, but even if you don’t, there’s more to work for than just a bowl game."
DEFENSIVE MINDS: A former defensive back with NFL position coaching experience, Mason also handles defensive coordinator duties for the Commodores. In recent weeks, Odom has been getting more involved in defensive matters as well, having served as defensive coordinator last season. Beginning in Missouri’s 51-45 loss to Middle Tennessee State on Oct. 22, Odom assumed more defensive play-calling duties, integrating elements of his defense from last season into first-year defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross’ scheme.
COUNTING ON CUNNINGHAM: Vanderbilt’s defense is led by Cunningham, who has 94 tackles this season, including 13 1/2 for losses, as well as a pass breakup, quarterback hurry and forced fumble.
"Cunningham is all over the place," Odom said. "It’s amazing. If you just look at his stat line, it’s really, really impressive, but even more impressive, the way he’s getting off blocks. His reads are absolutely on point every snap."
"He’s one of the best players in the SEC," Mason said of his team’s leading tackler. "In my opinion, the best defensive player in the SEC."
TIME OF POSSESSION: Vanderbilt ranks fifth in the conference in time of possession, averaging 31:10 per game. The Commodores rush the ball 57 percent of the time and have 15 rushing touchdowns to just five passing. Missouri’s up-tempo offense has struggled with consistency. The Tigers’ average time of possession is 24:09, which ranks last in the nation.