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‘Dores Deal Mizzou Stunning Blow

By Matt Smith
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In 60 minutes, the Commodores reset the SEC East race with an opportunistic performance.

After a season and a half of chalky college football, the SEC East has slapped our collective faces with a reminder that this wacky, wonderful sport that we all love always delivers.

It started last week with South Carolina stunning No. 3 Georgia in overtime as a three-touchdown road underdog in Athens. Fast forward to this Saturday, when Vanderbilt was a three-touchdown home underdog to No. 22 Missouri. The 1-5 Commodores were fresh off of a 34-10 home loss to a 1-4 UNLV team. Sixth-year head coach Derek Mason’s job status was tenuous after the Commodores offense had scored just 16 points in the previous two games.

Missouri was on a five-game winning streak that included a whipping of those aforementioned South Carolina Gamecocks. The Tigers were the only SEC East team without a loss, and a third trip to the SEC Championship Game in seven seasons was very much in play. The point spread seemed on point, if not understated.

Vanderbilt 21, Missouri 14. Final.

In 60 minutes, the Commodores reset the SEC East race with an opportunistic performance. They had plenty of help, as Missouri came up scoreless on two red zone trips and committed 12 penalties for 120 yards. Let’s give Mason credit though. His defense played with fire after having no answer for UNLV a week ago. Vanderbilt held Kelly Bryant to just 212 yards of total offense, and the Tigers were a miserable 3-of-15 on third-down attempts.

Offensively, the Commodores turned to third-string quarterback and Syracuse transfer Mo Hasan, who made his first career start. Hasan played into the second half before having to leave the game with a head injury on a targeting penalty. Both Hasan and previous starter Riley Neal threw touchdown passes, as the Commodores and Tigers alternated scores. Vanderbilt scored first and last to come out on top.

The key moment came in the third quarter, when Vanderbilt seemingly forced a red-zone stop while clinging to a 14-7 lead. Missouri’s Tucker McCann missed a short field goal, but Tae Daley was flagged for roughing the kicker to give the back to the Tigers. Two plays later, Bryant was intercepted by Allan George.

The Tigers would come back to tie the game at 14-14 after Neal threw an interception of his own that was returned inside the 10-yard line, but after an exchange of punts, Neal marched the Commodores 65 yards in eight plays for the go-ahead touchdown on a 21-yard pass to Cam Johnson. Missouri missed a field goal on its next possession. It turned out to be its final possession. That Vanderbilt offense that had been dormant for the better part of a month ran out the final six minutes, aided by a Missouri offsides penalty on a 3rd-and-2 play.

Coming into Saturday, the Tigers were in a position that, if they could just beat the dregs of the conference, they might get to Atlanta on December’s first Saturday by just splitting back-to-back November games with Florida and Georgia. That’s out the door now. They’ll need to win both, and if they play like they did in Nashville, they’ll lose both by the same 21 points that they were favored to win by on Saturday. For head coach Barry Odom, whose teams have played their best football in late October and November, this is a second head-scratching loss after the season-opening blunder at Wyoming. A favorable schedule put the Tigers in prime position to make a run at the division, but that opportunity was mostly blown on Saturday.

Mason was hired because of his defensive prowess. While it hadn’t shown much this season, it might be his defense that allows him to return in 2020. At 2-5 and 1-3 in the SEC, he could use one more SEC win, but his team showed that they haven’t been passed by the non-Florida and Georgia teams in the division. That’s the goal for Vanderbilt, and for one week at least, it seems like reality.

The fans might have punted on the season, as fewer than 24,000 showed up to Vanderbilt Stadium, but Mason and his team didn’t. It was a must-win game for Mason, but only in hindsight, because nobody that wasn’t wearing a gold star on their helmet thought a win was possible.

If there’s a lesson learned over the past two weeks, it’s that the impossible is possible. South Carolina proved it. Vanderbilt proved it. We’ll need another slap in the face as a reminder at some point, but for now, thanks to a pair of three-touchdown SEC East underdogs, we remember why we love college football.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.