Keeping it rolling: Missouri smokes Vandy 45-17

With the victory in Nashville, the Tigers are bowl eligible for the first time since 2014.

Drew Lock warms up ahead of Missouri's 68-21 victory over Idaho on Homecoming on Oct. 21. Maneater File Photo

All of the conditions for the Missouri Tigers and the Vanderbilt Commodores’ Southeastern Conference clash seemed to support a low-scoring affair.

Kickoff was delayed 30 minutes due to a tornado warning, and 21 mph winds combined with misty rain made it appear as if points were going to come at a premium.

But that was not to be.

Playing “bend, don’t break” defense and pounding the ball on the ground to open up the passing game in Nashville, Tennessee, Saturday night, Missouri toppled the Commodores 45-17 for its fifth victory in a row.

With the win, Missouri improved to 6-5 on the season and became bowl eligible for the first time under second-year head coach Barry Odom. Missouri also became the 14th team ever in Division I to start the season 1-5 and become bowl eligible.

Odom did not downplay the significance of the victory after the game.

“Getting to the sixth win is huge in a lot of different areas,” Odom said. “I’m really happy for our seniors and excited for our underclassmen to have an opportunity to get into postseason play.”

While Missouri led 35-0 at halftime, Vanderbilt refused to quit and made a game of it in the second half. The Commodores outscored Missouri 17-3 in the third quarter but were unable to mount the improbable comeback in the fourth.

The Tigers had arguably their most complete game of the season on Saturday night, as the team scored a touchdown on offense, defense and special teams. But while all three units had fundamentally sound games, the defense stood out the most, especially in the first half. Missouri held the Commodores to 100 total yards and zero points in the opening half and gave up less than 20 points on the game for the fourth week in a row.

Leading the defensive unit were sophomore linebacker Cale Garrett and redshirt junior linebacker Brandon Lee, who each had exceptional games. Garrett had 12 tackles, including eight tackles in the first half, and recorded two tackles for loss. He also added a highlight-reel sack in the first half, exploding through a Commodore offensive line that played well for much of the night and bringing down Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur. Lee returned an interception for a touchdown, juking out Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb, and recorded two pass breakups.

But Lee wasn’t just effective on defense. On special teams, the Indianapolis native recorded a few big blocks, the biggest of which came along Missouri’s sideline on a second-quarter Richaud Floyd punt return and opened up room for Floyd to race down the field and score a touchdown.

Lee gave all the credit for the play to Floyd, however.

“Richaud made it happen; I just laid my body on the line,” Lee said. “He set the block up well, and I just gave the guy a little nudge, and Richaud was tip-toeing up the sideline, Tony Tip-Tap.”

Offensively, junior quarterback Drew Lock was once again prolific, throwing for 235 yards and three scores. He threw for over 200 yards for the 10th time this season, and his three touchdown passes improved his season total to 38, the most touchdown passes of any quarterback in the country. Lock is closing in on Missouri’s single-season program record of 39 touchdown passes, set by Chase Daniel in 2008, as well as the SEC’s single-season touchdown pass record of 40, which is currently held by Kentucky’s Andre Woodson.

Lock’s favorite target on the night was one he’s gone to more often as the season has progressed: redshirt freshman Albert Okwuegbunam. The 6-foot-5-inch, 260-pound tight end caught five passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns. His two touchdown receptions gave him nine on the year and tied him with Jeremy Maclin for most touchdown receptions by a freshman in program history. They also tied him for first in the country amongst all tight ends in touchdown receptions.

While Okwuegbunam was the standout, senior Ish Witter quietly had himself an excellent game. He rushed for 102 yards, his third game of 100 yards or more on the season, and picked up a few key first downs that allowed Missouri to extend drives and get in the end zone. His counterpart, freshman Larry Rountree, added 53 yards and a touchdown.

Odom said his team will look to “keep it rolling” Friday on the road at Arkansas.

“Our team has showed tremendous resolve over the course of this season,” Odom said. “Obviously it hasn’t always been pretty, and tonight wasn’t either, but we found a way. We play better together.”

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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