NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt has one final challenge to finish out the month of October, a month that has greatly tested the Commodores against two of the nation’s top teams.
Losses to No. 9 Mississippi and No. 1 Georgia, respectively, (after a setback at No. 1 Alabama to end September) have resulted in a three-game losing streak for a team which sat at 3-1 overall Sept. 17. Now the Dores are looking to snap that skid with one final road game this month followed by the squad’s final off week of the season.
“Coming out of the stretch that we’ve just gone through, certainly our players and staff have been tested. One of the challenges this week is to pick up and say, ‘We’re moving forward and looking for our potential as a program and as a team,’ ”Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea said. “We’ve shown flashes of that this season and we’re waiting to put it altogether in a total effort. There’s no reason why we can’t do that this weekend. We’re going to play a good conference opponent on the road and we’re excited to do that.”
Vandy got back to work Tuesday morning looking to wash away the lingering effects of a 55-0 loss in Athens, Georgia, while turning focus toward Missouri (3 p.m. Saturday). Vanderbilt didn’t give itself much of a chance against the Bulldogs last time out as it fell behind 28-0 at halftime, turned the ball over at the 15 going in, missed a field goal and managed only 45 rushing yards.
That matchup was Vanderbilt’s third in a row against a team ranked inside the top 10 of The Associated Press poll. Saturday’s trip to Missouri won’t be against as highly-regarded as an opponent, but will be just as challenging.
“Playing in the SEC, every game is going to be a tough game,” Vanderbilt offensive lineman Xavier Castillo said. “Especially with three back-to-back-to-back top-10 teams, that’s just games you want to have and games that are the most-fun. We just have to keep that same energy and same mindset coming into this game.”
Missouri (2-4, 0-3 SEC) has had some recent struggles of its own. The Tigers have dropped three in a row, losing to Auburn, No. 1 Georgia and Florida, respectively. But all three of those defeats have been by a combined 14 points.
Head coach Eli Drinkwitz has a squad ranked fourth nationally in time of possession (35:21), seventh in third-down defense (27.4 percent) and 18th in passing efficiency defense (115.9). Quarterback Brady Cook has completed 64.9 percent of his passes, but has thrown more interceptions (6) than touchdowns (5). Receiver Dominic Lovett has 499 receiving yards on 31 receptions.
Missouri has beaten Vanderbilt twice in a row, including a 37-28 victory in 2021 in which the Tigers scored a touchdown with 2:29 to go to provide the final margin.
Vandy’s last win against an SEC opponent came in 2019 against Missouri. To snap that long streak against conference foes the Commodores will undoubtedly need one of their best overall performances of the Lea Era this weekend.
“Losses are hard. Losses challenge you,” Lea said. “Everything is temporary. So you work through and you turn the page and you take learning and move forward, but what’s permanent is the choices you make when you’re facing adversity. I think that reveals your character. That’s been the message to both the staff and the team.
“In the end, our losses reflect where we are as a program. Our losses reflect the product we’re putting on the field right now, both from a planning standpoint and an execution standpoint. That doesn’t mean that we have to accept it, that means we have to work to improve it.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.