Mizzou under coach Eli Drinkwitz is a complicated case study from an analytical perspective. On one hand, the Tigers don’t appear to be doing enough to be an upper-tier team in the SEC. On the other hand, they’ve been competitive in every game but the one against Kansas State.
By Matt Zemek
Perhaps Drinkwitz has the program on the verge of figuring things out. These types of seasons often precede runs in which close losses one year become close wins and a better overall team in the next year. The Tigers now have a chance to get their season back on track against Vanderbilt this Saturday. Let’s see what they need to do.
Vanderbilt might be 3-4, but the Commodores are better than their record would suggest, since two of their four losses are to Alabama and Georgia, the two teams which met in the national championship game last season. Another loss is to Ole Miss, which made the Sugar Bowl last year. VU’s losses have come against three teams which have one total (combined) loss this season. With that said, the Commodores do have a fragile defense, even if you account for the quality of opponent Vanderbilt has faced. Only Ohio and Charlotte have worse defenses from a statistical perspective. The Dores have given up 3,456 yards on the season and have allowed 36 opposing touchdowns. Vanderbilt gives up 493.7 yards per game. In the last three games, Vanderbilt had conceded over 1,200 passing yards.
Remind A.J. Swann he’s a true freshman
One of the biggest things Mizzou can do to shape this game in its favor is get after Vanderbilt’s freshman quarterback, A.J. Swann, early and often. Swann is barely getting his feet wet in SEC play, but he’s not a turnover-prone quarterback. He hasn’t thrown a single interception this year. He just played the Georgia defense. There’s not much Mizzou can throw at him that Georgia hasn’t, but Mizzou needs to force a cautious quarterback into making mistakes.
Control the clock and deny Vanderbilt the run game
How do you shut down a team whose best asset is its run game? You control the clock when on offense and take away the run on defense. It sounds so simple on paper but is far from easy in reality. Fortunately for Mizzou, the Tigers are really good at controlling the clock. They’re the fourth-best team in the nation and the second-best in the SEC in time of possession. Only Navy, Air Force, and Georgia do a better job of controlling the clock than Mizzou. Georgia and Mizzou are tied for average time of possession at 35 minutes, but Mizzou has done it in six games while Georgia has played seven.