There are no such things as ugly wins. Ask any coach or player in an honest moment, and they will tell you. Victories are difficult enough to get without placing qualifiers on them, and in Vanderbilt’s case there is no qualifier anywhere. A win is a win.
Vanderbilt picked up its first conference win of the Derek Mason era in a 10-3 slugfest over Missouri. It was a game that lacked any aesthetics, except the win itself. Freshman Kyle Shurmur did get the start at quarterback, though the commitment was half-hearted. Johnny McCrary played often, but only the positives here. Derek Mason came to Vanderbilt as a defensive genius, having dedicated himself back to that this season. The defense has been exemplary, and Saturday it was outstanding, regardless of the state of the Mizzou offense.
Missouri has now gone three full games without a touchdown. Original starting QB Maty Mauk’s indefinite suspension has sunk this team, and freshman Drew Lock in way over his head. The two-time defending Eastern Division champions are now in the cellar, 1-4 in conference play. They have mustered but four field goals in their last three games. No matter how excellent a defense is, it cannot overcome that sort of futility—something Vanderbilt fans know well.
The day started with controversy, as Vanderbilt forced a fumble on the opening kickoff, astonishingly not called a fumble on the field or in the replay booth. This was a game with far too many replay disruptions from what has to be the worst officiating crew in this or any other conference. It was comical if not sad. Replay was never designed to be a crutch for the officials, only a backup system to be used on rare occasions of obvious uncertainty. By my unofficial count, there were eight replay reviews in this game, probably six too many.
About that Vanderbilt defense. This was the fewest points Vanderbilt had scored in a conference win since 1968. Missouri was held to 188 yards total offense, only 80 on the ground, and after picking up a first down on their first play from scrimmage did not pick up their second until just before the end of the third quarter. Many of Mizzou’s yards came at the end as Vandy was trying to funnel them towards the middle and guard against the big play with time on their side. It was as good a defensive performance against a legitimate opponent as the Commodores have had in years. Derek Mason knows defense.
Offense was still a mess, and the kicking game embarrassingly bad. Mason still cannot figure out what he wants from a quarterback or how to get that out of them. I fear more switching is coming. Shurmur was okay, 10-for-20 on the day; McCrary was sharp with the reduced pressure on him, 7-for-8; and Ralph Webb was the best player, 99 yards on 26 carries with the lone touchdown. Tommy Openshaw missed two more field goals, including a 32-yarder late which kept Missouri in it. Something must give there.
But it was a conference win, with Vanderbilt now 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the SEC. Vandy has the same record overall and in conference play as Tennessee; the same conference mark as Auburn; and fewer conference defeats than Missouri or South Carolina. None of that was expected in August, even at halfway. Next are #18 and 7-0 Houston on the road Saturday night, their first meeting since Vandy’s Compass Bowl victory at the end of a bygone era.