NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)- Vanderbilt offensive lineman Wesley Johnson’s locker room outburst seems to have given his teammates the spark they needed this season. The Commodores are playing much more aggressive.
Now they need to see if the approach that helped them win two straight games carries over to the bulk of their Southeastern Conference schedule.
Senior wide receiver Jordan Matthews said conference games give the Commodores additional motivation.
“I think just being in SEC, period, is going to get your blood boiling a little bit,” said Matthews, the SEC’s leading receiver with 40 catches.
The Commodores (3-2, 0-2) will be hosting Missouri (4-0) Saturday night for the Tigers’ SEC opener and their first trip to Nashville as members of the league.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said his Tigers are excited about starting SEC play with this the first of eight straight league games. Pinkel has been looking at how other SEC teams put schedules together with Missouri now in their second season.
“It almost appears they like the nonconference games to get some break from the SEC a little bit,” Pinkel said. “The new schedule will come out and dictate the direction we go. Either way, it’s OK with me.”
The Tigers are averaging more than 260 yards per game. Four rushers, including quarterback James Franklin, have recorded at least 226 yards on the ground and combined for 13 touchdowns. Sophomore tailback Russell Hansbrough leads the pack with 8.6 yards per carry.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin described the Tiger tailback committee as “explosive” and worries Missouri’s size might cause problems. However, the Tigers have yet to be tested. The four teams Missouri has faced are a combined 9-10 with the Tigers’ big nonconference win at Indiana, and they routed Arkansas State 41-19 last week.
Johnson erupted at halftime of a win at UMass nearly two weeks ago. Franklin and his staff preach aggressive play, and it finally took hold last week when Vanderbilt took shots down field and forced two interceptions in beating UAB 52-24.
For the first time in program history, the Commodores had a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and pair of 100-yard receivers in a single game. Austyn Carta-Samuels threw for a career-high 334 yards, Jerron Seymour rushed for 107 yards and Matthews and Jonathan Krause each tallied more than 100 yards receiving.
“We are going to build on that,” Franklin said.
Here are five things to watch when Missouri plays at Vanderbilt on Saturday:
BLACK & GOLD: Unlike most games, splashes of color will be lacking since both teams boast the same colors of black and gold. Vanderbilt coach Franklin encouraged Vanderbilt’s fans to be extra rowdy to help with the identity crisis. “We need a home-field advantage,” he said.
THE GROUND GAME: Vanderbilt pounded out its best rushing performance this season with 206 yards on the ground against UAB, led by Seymour’s 107 yards and two TDs. Missouri counters with an SEC-best 262 yards rushing per game and outran Vandy 150-89 in last year’s 19-15 loss.
CAREFUL THROWS: Missouri has recorded the second most interceptions in the NCAA this season with 10 picks. The Tigers also possess a 34-game streak with a turnover forced, the longest active streak in the nation. Carta-Samuels has been intercepted in all but one game this season.
WHO HAS THE LEG? Vandy senior Carey Spear set the school record for field goals of 50 or more yards against UAB. Spear connected on a 50-yarder in the second quarter, his fourth long-distance kick of his career. Missouri sophomore Andrew Baggert has the second-best touchback percentage in the nation and is why the Tigers have 26 touchbacks on 31 kickoffs an 83.9-percent clip.
FRANKLIN vs. FRANKLIN II: Franklin, the player, exited early with a leg injury during last year’s game in Columbia. When asked about sharing the same name, the Vanderbilt coach said, “I wish it was a little bit more interesting and I had something to tell you like George Foreman named all his sons, George. I could say something that was a connection that way, but there is not.”