Q&A: Vanderbilt football writer previews Saturday’s game

In a conversation with The Maneater, Robbie Weinstein breaks down the SEC matchup between Missouri and Vanderbilt.

Missouri faces Vanderbilt at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in a Southeastern Conference matchup in Columbia. Robbie Weinstein, who covers football for The Vanderbilt Hustler, spoke with The Maneater’s Nick Kelly about what to expect Saturday.

The Maneater: Is a 4-5 record a fair record of where Vanderbilt is at?

Robbie Weinstein: I think 4-5 or 5-4 would be pretty accurate. If you look at their schedule, the close games, they have lost four of them and won two of them. They beat Georgia on the road and Western Kentucky on the road. Honestly, I didn’t expect wins in either of those games. But then they lost both the Kentucky and South Carolina games, both of which I expected them to win. The Auburn one — I don’t think anyone here, outside the team at least, expected them to even compete in that game. So I think 4-5 is relatively fair.

For them, the interesting thing is the schedule opened up in these last three games all of a sudden because, as you know, Missouri is having a rough season and Ole Miss now has lost its quarterback. Tennessee is melting down. So I think 4-5 is pretty accurate as a true reflection of how good they are as a team, but I think that they have a very good chance at a minimum to get to 5-7, maybe 6-6. They only need five wins to go to a bowl most likely because of their very high RPI score.

ME: Do you think this is a bowl team?

RW: Yeah, I think so. I think there is a better than 50 percent chance that they win at least one of these last three games. I don’t think that five-win teams should go to bowl games, but since that is the way it is, I do think they are likely to go to a bowl game and if they get to one, they are likely to win because of the track record of SEC teams doing pretty well in bowls for as long as I can remember.

ME: What is Vanderbilt’s biggest strength?

RW: Their biggest strength is their linebacking core. Zach Cunningham is arguably the best defensive player in the SEC. I know that sounds kind of out there with Myles Garrett and Jonathan Allen from Alabama in the conference, but [Cunningham] is an All-American probably, and I have never seen a defensive player like him.

They have been really effective on defense when they are not playing against a team who does not have a mobile quarterback. When they play against quarterbacks who can both run and pass ... they haven’t been very good. But against quarterbacks who stand in the pocket and they face offenses that are a little bit predictable, they have had a lot of success. Florida is probably a good example of that, only giving up 13 points. Also only giving up only 16 points to Georgia is another good example. And only giving up 13 points to South Carolina.

So, they are good against predictable offenses, but if you confuse them and make them think and don’t just run straight at them, then you can overcome that strength of theirs.

ME: What is Vanderbilt’s biggest weakness?

RW: The passing game on offense. A lot of people coming into the year thought the passing game was going to be the most improved part of the team, and it has improved a little bit since last year, I think, because last year, they started with Johnny McCrary as their quarterback and he was kind of a turnover machine. Kyle Shurmer is taking care of the ball, but they haven’t gotten very many explosive plays out of the passing game so far. Shurmer’s completion percentage is only 55 percent. He has five touchdowns and four interceptions this year in nine games.

Their receivers aren’t particularly dynamic. They haven’t dropped as many passes over the last few years, but it is not a passing game that is going to scare anybody. So, for that reason, that has basically been why the offense has struggled this year.

ME: Who on Missouri poses the biggest threat to Vanderbilt?

RW: I think J’Mon Moore probably has a chance to get behind the Vanderbilt defense.

The secondary hasn’t been super consistent this year. Even in some of their games against Western Kentucky, for example, WKU had receivers running free through the secondary, but the quarterback just didn’t hit them. So I think they are susceptible to the deep ball a little bit, especially because they don’t get very much pressure on the quarterback.

So it is possible that Missouri could get a couple of big plays from J’Mon Moore. If that is the case, then honestly, there is a scenario where Vanderbilt could be beat because Vanderbilt hasn’t proven to be a very explosive offensive team against SEC competition over the last three years.

ME: What is your prediction for the game?

RW: I think Vanderbilt. I picked them to get blown out in their last two SEC games against Georgia and Auburn. They obviously exceeded my expectations in both games. They are playing very well right now. They are improving. People on the team feel they play their best on the road. So, I am actually going to go out on a limb here and say they win pretty easily. 31-17. I don’t think the offense is going to have an amazing day, but they are going to force a couple of turnovers, and that alone will probably be the difference.

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