A win at Vandy would be a big boost for Mizzou’s bowl eligibility

Gary Pinkel's Tigers have lost three of their last four games.

 

Dale Zanine/Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and his Tigers are in the midst of their first losing skid since 2012, a big change for the program that won the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division each of the past two seasons.

The Tigers have lost two straight and three of the last four. With four games left, Pinkel insists he’s worried only about Saturday’s visit to Vanderbilt.

"We have great potential, but as the season clicks down here, as the games click down, the sense of urgency becomes bigger and bigger," Pinkel said. "I’m just real honest with our players about it, and that’s the way I’ve always been."

Missouri (4-3, 1-3) still must play Mississippi State, BYU, Tennessee and Arkansas, so a victory over Vanderbilt would be a big boost toward becoming bowl eligible. Pinkel said the only focus now is trying to beat Vanderbilt.

"Our players get the numbers," Pinkel said.

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Points will be at a premium in a game pitting the SEC’s two worst scoring teams and a pair of the league’s best defenses. Missouri is second in the SEC, giving up only 12.9 points and 279 yards per game. The Tigers also bring in the league’s best passing defense with defenders who have picked off eight passes.

With coach Derek Mason calling the schemes, Vanderbilt is nearly as stingy. The Commodores (2-4, 0-3) are fifth in the SEC allowing 18.5 points a game and are the league’s best on third downs, allowing opponents to convert just 26.2 percent. So the team that scores a touchdown very well could win, and Mason says he has challenged his Commodores.

"I think we understand what our strengths are, but you can’t win it on one side of the ball," Mason said. "… The defense is going to be stressed a little bit to try to do some things. But here’s what happens. We’re still a young foot team and when you try to put too much on one group, eventually at some point in time that breaks. I want them playing hard."

Here are some things to watch Saturday:

LOCKED DOWN: Missouri freshman quarterback Drew Lock is 1-2 as a starter. Lock was 11 of 26 for 143 yards at Georgia, where the Tigers couldn’t manage to score a touchdown in the 9-6 loss. Only Missouri scores fewer points than Vanderbilt in the SEC with an average of 15.5 points a game.

QB CHANGE: Vanderbilt may be making a quarterback change against Missouri as Mason explores "every option." Johnny McCrary started the first six games, but he has been intercepted 10 times this season — most by an SEC quarterback. Wade Freebeck started four games as a freshman last season, and freshman Kyle Shurmur now is on the depth chart. Shurmur’s father, Pat, is offensive coordinator with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.

HOME SWEET HOME: Vanderbilt is at home for the first time since Sept. 19, and this is homecoming. No team has turned the ball over more than Vanderbilt, yet the Commodores rank 14th nationally by holding the ball for 32 minutes, 53 seconds per game.

PINKEL HITS 300: This will be Pinkel’s 300th career game as a head coach in his 25th season overall. He spent 10 seasons at Toledo and this is his 15th at Missouri. He will join Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer, Dennis Franchione of Texas State and Kansas State’s Bill Snyder as the only active coaches with at least 300 games at the FBS level. Pinkel has 190 wins, tying him with Snyder as the second-winningest active coaches behind Beamer.

STILL SEARCHING: Mason has lost his first 11 SEC games since taking over last season. He came close to ending that drought in a 19-10 loss at South Carolina last week.