Vanderbilt has a newfound confidence and a newfound purpose as it goes into its second bye week of the season.
The Commodores (2-5, 1-3 SEC) beat No. 22 Missouri 21-14 on Saturday to keep postseason hope alive. They did so with a new quarterback and a reenergized defense, but also with the mindset to stay the course when things appeared at their toughest.
“I think sometimes you got to continue to believe what you believe,” Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said. “The voices get loud and when the voices get loud, everybody jumps on. Because that’s all we know how to do in today’s society. We don’t necessarily raise people up. It feels a little bit more comfortable to kick people and jump on their backs.
“We’re just going to stick to our process. It’s not outcome-driven, it’s process-driven. What you saw (Saturday) was a pretty good process.”
One week after a demoralizing and unexpected 34-10 loss at home to UNLV, the Dores flipped the homecoming script by virtually controlling all 60 minutes Saturday against the visiting Tigers (5-2, 2-1 SEC).
Mizzou came into the affair averaging 38.3 points per contest. Vandy held it to 14 – and seven of those 14 came after a Tigers’ interception was returned to the Vanderbilt 6-yard line.
Safety Tae Daley and linebacker Dimitri Moore each registered 11 tackles. Linebacker Andre Mintze had two tackles for loss and a sack. Defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo had three of Vandy’s five quarterback hurries.
And cornerback Allan George may have had the biggest defensive play of the night – an interception in the back left corner of the end zone early in the third quarter.
“I think I can just go back to the trust, really,” George said on Vanderbilt’s best defensive game of the season. “We knew that we had the same talent that every other team in the conference does, but we weren’t believing in ourself and believing in the people that were on the field with us.
“I think that mainly, (Saturday), people kind of saw us a change a little twitch and us change just how much we trust somebody. We were flying around just making plays.”
Vanderbilt also turned to third-string quarterback and walk-on Mo Hasan on Saturday. Mason said he knew the Sunday after the UNLV loss that a change was needed at quarterback and went with the Miami, Florida, native for a spark.
Hasan rushed for 34 yards on nine carries and threw for 120 yards on seven completions – including a 61-yard touchdown pass on a screen to running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Hasan left in the third quarter after a helmet-to-helmet hit, but Vandy had already found its swagger again by then.
“We went over during the week of practice most everything that they had,” Mizzou sophomore linebacker Nick Bolton said. “They had a couple kinks in what they did, but I’m saying from week to week you’ve got to beat somebody who has something for your scheme.
“They’ve got a great coach and they exploited some things about our scheme.”
Vanderbilt’s offensive numbers weren’t great – just 315 yards of total offense, a 3-for-12 rate on third down and a costly turnover. Still, Mason’s team fought and clawed for four quarters to break a short-lived, two-game losing streak.
Hasan will continue to be an option at quarterback for a team that, until Saturday, was searching for an offensive identity and an emotional lift halfway through 2019.
“I do believe we found a formula, but I believe it’s bigger than just a formula. I think we found some chemistry,” Mason said. “The reality is for us it’s been something missing. Just a little something missing. What guys realized (Saturday), if you just do your job, you play for each other and do your job, then maybe you can play good football. That’s exactly what they did.
“I told these guys their ain’t no secret sauce to this. Let’s make sure we just do our job. And probably for the first time all year you saw this team play a 60-minute ballgame because guys were just doing their jobs.”
Vanderbilt has the weekend off before traveling to South Carolina (3-4, 2-3 SEC) on Nov. 2. The Commodores have beaten the Gamecocks just four times in 36 tries, have lost 10 in a row in the series and haven’t won in Columbia, South Carolina, since 2007.
After that trip Vandy goes to No. 9 Florida (7-1, 4-1 SEC) before ending the year in the state of Tennessee with home games against Kentucky (3-4, 1-4 SEC) and East Tennessee State (2-5) and a short drive over to Tennessee (2-5, 1-3 SEC), respectively.
“It’s just the start of a new season,” Vaughn said. “We had six games left. We came out and won our first game of the second half of the season. We put everything behind us. We couldn’t do nothing about the past.
“All we could do is something about (Saturday) and we got the win.”