Missouri looking to end home woes vs Vanderbilt
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Gary Pinkel doesn't have an answer for his team's recent struggles at home.
Despite a 3-0 record on the road, Missouri (5-2, 2-1 SEC) has lost consecutive games on Faurot Field to Indiana and Georgia - the latter by 34 points. Even so, the Tigers only have one Southeastern Conference loss as they prepare to host Vanderbilt (2-5, 0-4).
''Losing at home is inexcusable,'' Pinkel said. ''That's my responsibility. We've got to fix that.''
Priority number one will be improving an offense that has gained just 266 total yards in its last two games combined. The team won 42-13 last week at Florida thanks mostly to special teams and defense, each of which scored two touchdowns.
Vanderbilt's defense allows 415.9 yards and a league-worst 34 points per game, but the Tigers say they simply want to play to their potential.
''All you've got to do is take advantage of your opportunities, and the game usually goes in your favor,'' receiver Bud Sasser said.
After a week off, Vanderbilt hopes to spark its own offense with freshman quarterback Johnny McCrary, who will become the fourth signal caller to start for the team this season because of injuries. McCrary completed 10 of 16 passes for 169 yards off the bench in a 21-20 win against Charleston Southern on Oct. 11, highlighted by a 65-yard completion to receiver C.J. Duncan for a touchdown.
''He's got to grow into the position much like everybody else who plays under center,'' coach Derek Mason said. ''He's got an infectious personality. He loves football. He loves his teammates. We've just got to make sure that we run the ball well.''
Here are some things to know about the matchup:
MOVING THE BALL: The game features the two least-productive offenses in the SEC as Missouri averages 323.7 yards per game while Vanderbilt averages 270.4. Sasser said the Tigers' mistakes are small, but prevent the team from establishing a rhythm. Penalties have stalled the Commodores, who have been flagged an average of 56.4 yards per game.
MAUK'S PRESSURE: Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk will face pressure after completing just six of 18 passes for 20 yards and an interception at Florida. Mauk has been picked off five times in his last two games as opponents have blitzed often to challenge his decision-making. Despite the struggles, Pinkel has remained supportive of the sophomore.
DON'T KICK TO THEM: Special teams figures to play a prominent role as Marcus Murphy owns Missouri's record of seven combined touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns, including two last week. Vanderbilt's Darrius Sims returned two kickoffs for scores against South Carolina on Sept. 20 and reached the end zone on an interception return at Kentucky a week later. Except for kicker Tommy Openshaw, Sims leads the team in scoring despite not regularly playing on offense.
RAY'S SACKS: Missouri defensive end Shane Ray leads the SEC with 14 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. After recording his fourth two-sack game this season at Florida, the junior only needs 1.5 more with five games remaining to tie Michael Sam and Aldon Smith for the school record.
VANDY'S YOUTH: Thirty-one freshmen have received playing time this year for the Commodores, the most of any team in the country. Duncan, running back Ralph Webb and linebacker Nigel Bowden lead Vanderbilt with 322 receiving yards, 560 rushing yards and 54 tackles, respectively. ''Coming off a big win, their confidence is high and we have to find a way to pack it up, take it on the road, grind one out and find a way to get it done,'' Mason said.