NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A bowl game seemed light years away when Missouri fell to 1-5 after an ugly loss at Georgia in mid-October. Now the Tigers find themselves just one win away from becoming bowl eligible.
It's something only 12 teams have ever managed after starting 1-5, and Missouri will try to clinch that postseason berth Saturday night at Vanderbilt.
"They've been through a lot, and that was one of our goals that we talked about ... having a chance to play after the regular season is over," Missouri coach Barry Odom said of his seniors. "Everybody knows what you get to 1-0 this weekend, and that opens up a whole other world of opportunities for us."
Missouri (5-5, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) has rattled off four straight wins over Idaho, UConn, Florida and Tennessee to even its record. The Tigers have taken advantage of its schedule, and a powerful offense averaging 53.8 point during the winning streak certainly has helped.
That's bad news for the Commodores (4-6, 0-6), who have allowed an average of 46.2 points in conference play. Vanderbilt has lost six of its last seven and remain winless in league play. The Commodores still could become bowl eligible with at least one win in their last two games if there are not enough teams with six victories to fill all the bowl slots.
"If you think that this group is going to pitch a tent and at the end of the day call it quits, then you're wrong," Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. "This football team is going to play. You're going to see 20 seniors want to go out with their last home game with a victory and they're going to play their tails off. I'm going to make sure of that."
Some other things to know about Missouri and Vanderbilt:
LOCKED IN: The Commodores face containing Missouri quarterback Drew Lock, who leads the nation with 35 touchdown passes. He threw four in last week's 50-17 rout of Tennessee , which sent coach Butch Jones packing. Missouri leads the SEC in pass efficiency (165.5) and ranks second with 306 yards in passing offense. "He's just been on fire," Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. "They've been explosive. He's been really good at the long ball. He plays in a unique offense: it's more fun and gun. It's a spread offense, for sure."
TIME TO REBOUND: Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur needs to rebound after throwing four interceptions and being sacked five times in last week's 44-21 loss to Kentucky. "You can get caught trying to do too much," Mason said. "There is no 21- or 14-point play. He understands that. You take what's there. A couple of those picks were not of Kyle's doing. Tipped passes: one by a defender and the other one by a receiver. Two of the interceptions were throws he'd like to have back. He'll learn."
HOMECOMING AWAY FROM HOME: Three Missouri starters played at Nashville area high schools: wide receiver Emanuel Hall (Centennial), right offensive tackle Paul Adams (Christ Presbyterian Academy) and punter Corey Fatony (Franklin). A big-play threat, Hall (31 catches, six TDs) ranks third nationally with 22.8 yards per reception. The 6-6, 315-pound Adams has made 22 straight starts. Fatony ranks sixth nationally in punting (46 ypk), including a career-long 70-yard boot against South Carolina.
GROUNDED WEBB: Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb was limited to nine carries against Kentucky as the Commodores fell behind early, forcing them to pass more. "It gets tough to run the ball when you're down," Webb said. "Turnovers are costly. We've got to eliminate the turnovers and make sure we're playing in front of the chains, and not beating ourselves." The senior needs 45 yards to become the ninth player in SEC history to reach the 4,000-yard milestone.
HIGH-POWERED OFFENSE: Even with Lock's success, stopping the run is priority No. 1 for Vanderbilt's defense. Missouri erupted for 659 yards in total offense, including 433 on the ground against Tennessee. Senior running back Ish Witter had a career-high 216 rushing yards and one TD for the SEC's top offense with Missouri averaging 501.6 yards per game.