One thing is for sure: Missouri could ill-afford to put up another letdown performance against Vanderbilt. They certainly didn’t disappoint Saturday, as they cruised to a 41-0 win over the Commodores. People at the game got to witness history, as Vanderbilt’s Sarah Fuller became the first woman to play in a Power 5 college football game, making her only appearance on the second half kickoff.
The game itself wasn’t at all suspenseful, but from the Tigers’ perspective, that’s all you could hope for. Last year’s loss in Nashville left a sour taste in the mouth for Missouri players, and even though Eli Drinkwitz wasn’t the coach for that upset defeat, he still made sure his guys got extra motivation by plastering the facility and locker rooms with news headlines from that loss. Whether that motivation made all the difference is up for debate, but you can’t deny that Missouri came out of that locker room prepared to deliver payback, and they left no doubt in this year’s matchup.
So with that, here are my Knee-Jerk Reactions to Missouri’s beatdown win over Vanderbilt:
Missouri needed to have this game in the bag by the fourth quarter, and they did
At least by what the scoreboard shows, Missouri had not put together a decisive victory up to this point. Obviously, the Tigers controlled the game against Kentucky from start to finish, but still only won by 10 points. What they did against Vanderbilt Saturday was as comprehensive of a victory they have gotten. The defense had nearly no struggles (Nick Bolton had another solid showing, with nine tackles and two for loss, including a sack), and the offense got back on track. That all equated to Missouri outgaining Vanderbilt 603-196(!) and picking up 31 first downs compared to Vanderbilt’s 13.
Sure, Vanderbilt is not a good team, and it showed. But even then, they have stuck around with opponents in past games (and covered some large point spreads in the process). Missouri needed to make sure that less-talented team across from them didn’t have a chance going into the last quarter. Getting that early lead, and adding to it, allowed for the Tigers to get some bench guys into the game and rest some starters. That could go a long way for a beat up Missouri group as they go deeper into the final stretch of the season with no scheduled off week.
Larry Rountree reminded us of what he can do
Lately, the talk has been about a struggling Rountree, who despite getting a healthy dose of carries week by week, had not turned that into eye-popping numbers and sustained production from Missouri’s backfield. Boy, did that change. The program’s all-time rushing leader among running backs went off for 160 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries, and boosted the offense as a whole.
This is the kind of game we knew Rountree had in him, but were just waiting a while to see. There were times early in the season when he had productive carries, but not the volume of 20-25 touches a game. He had received that attention recently, but then couldn’t find enough openings for big yardage. This game proves that when you give him enough chances to impact a game, he can burn opposing defenses. This was the kind of game that Missouri’s offense wishes it had every week, and it all started with Rountree getting going.
This Missouri offensive line is a lot better with Larry Borom in it
Rountree’s success was certainly impacted by some key guys on the offensive line returning to the field. The Tigers’ offense looked stuck at times against Florida and South Carolina. Those were the two games that Larry Borom missed. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. He got inserted back into the starting lineup at right tackle and helped provide exactly what he did pre-injury: a clean pocket for Connor Bazelak and open running room for Rountree and Tyler Badie.
We should also give Xavier Delgado a lot of credit for returning from injury himself. He was important to have back in the left guard spot on that offensive line. I highlight Borom here because of his outstanding performances so far and the fact that he plays an important spot on that line. Missouri had lacked some experience at both tackle spots during the injuries to both Borom and Delgado, and Bazelak had some tough times trying to find receivers because he had defenders bearing down on him more often. Borom’s return brought that experience back, and should be huge for this offense down the stretch.
Right now, Tyler Badie is Missouri’s best pass catcher
It’s not to say that Missouri has bad wide receivers. I think guys like Tauskie Dove (8 catches, 62 yards on Saturday), Keke Chism (5 catches, 67 yards) and Barrett Banister (3 catches, 12 yards) have really shown progression in the last few games for Missouri. But Tyler Badie has proven to be the most dangerous guy that catches passes for the Tigers. He followed up a solid performance against South Carolina last week with a 100-yard receiving game vs. Vanderbilt. He added a touchdown on the ground, which he very well could’ve had on a 27-yard catch on the previous play, had it not been overturned on replay and called down at the one.
Do I think Connor Bazelak should make Badie the most targeted receiver within the offense? No. I think he works better when you give a steady diet of targets to those other receivers and tight ends. The way he gets carries and splits out wide for passes allows him to attack in different spots of the defense, which can create a little bit of deception. Plus, when he does get those chances to catch passes in the open field, he can be as elusive as anyone on Missouri’s offense, and he showed that again Saturday. As long as Drinkwitz keeps using him the way he should be used, Badie is the Tigers’ best weapon in the receiving game.
Sarah Fuller became a trailblazer
I, along with most everyone else across the country, was surely bummed when Vanderbilt’s offense failed to get into scoring position all game, depriving us of a chance to see Fuller dent the scoreboard with either a field goal or an extra point. Still, it was a landmark moment for the game of football to see her take the field and kick off to Missouri to start the second half. There shouldn’t be any criticism of how far the kick went, either. That was the way she wanted to execute it, by chipping the ball down the field and giving her special teams runners a chance to field a potential bad ricochet off a Missouri player.
Football needs more of this. There is absolutely no reason to think that women can’t make strong contributions to the game. Women are coaching now in the NFL. Women are officiating games in the NFL and all other levels. This mid-Missouri region has featured several female high school kickers in very recent years, including at all three Columbia public high schools. Many others across the country have played at the high school level, too. It’s time to stop thinking this is just a man’s sport. It’s not. Sarah Fuller just proved it.