COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri had lost its first three SEC games in increasingly heartbreaking fashion.
The Tigers finally held on down the stretch to win one on Saturday.
Luther Burden III had touchdowns on the ground and through the air, Missouri kept Vanderbilt’s offense off the scoreboard until late in the fourth quarter, and the Tigers proceeded to make a huge fourth-down stop with just over a minute left for a nerve-wracking 17-14 victory that lifted them out of the conference cellar.
“I’ve been around a lot of teams and I’ve not ever seen a team go through what they have and still bond and fight and have the energy in the way they practice,” Tigers coach Eli Drinkwitz said. “Man, I was so proud of them.”
Mike Wright, who took over when Commodores quarterback AJ Swann left in the second half, hit Gamarian Carter for an 80-yard touchdown reception with 3:59 to go, and Vanderbilt’s first offensive points in more than eight quarters gave Clark Lea’s team a chance of ending a 24-game conference losing streak.
Vanderbilt (3-5, 0-4) got the ball back with just under 3 minutes to go and got a quick first down on a penalty. But a third-down throw to Ben Bresnahan that appeared to give the Commodores a first down at the Missouri 43 was moved back a yard upon a review, bringing up fourth down, and Ray Davis was stuffed at the line of scrimmage to effectively end the game.
“We needed one play and there was a lot of plays going against us in the second half, as many as I’ve been part of, seeing the momentum switch like that,” Drinkwitz said. “We said, ‘No. We’re going to make the play on fourth-and-inches.’”
Brady Cook had 211 yards passing with a touchdown and an interception, and Cody Schrader came off the bench to run 14 times for 84 yards, as the Tigers (3-4, 1-4) beat Vanderbilt for the sixth time in the last seven meetings.
“I hurt for the guys that we didn’t find the result, and I think as a program we have to find ownership of the places we fell short,” Lea said. “We have to take ownership of the result. The win was there for us. We just didn’t do enough to get it.”
The Tigers needed just six plays to take a 7-0 lead when Burden followed a 29-yard catch by Barrett Banister with a 35-yard TD reception. But that offensive efficiency was in short supply for both teams most of the game.
The Commodores missed a field goal wide left. Then, just before halftime, Swann threw an interception in the Missouri end zone. At one point in between, the two teams combined to go three-and-out on five straight drives.
Missouri finally ended the dubious streak when Burden scored from 10 yards out, and Harrison Mevis capped an expertly run 2-minute drill by tacking on a 39-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 17-0 lead at the break.
It took the Vanderbilt defense to finally put points on the board.
The Commodores had Missouri backed up early in the third quarter when Anfernee Orji, who already had picked off a pass, drilled Cook and knocked the ball loose. At the same time, safety C.J. Taylor had leaped Schrader and was there to scoop up the fumble and trot into the end zone for the touchdown.
“That was just a great play by that kid,” Schrader said. “You can’t stop that.”
Vanderbilt had a chance to really seize momentum when the ensuing kickoff, caught in the wind like a sail, dropped short of the returners and the Commodores recovered. But their offense again went nowhere, and kicker Joseph Bulovas missed his second field-goal attempt, leaving the Tigers clinging to a 17-7 lead.
The Commodores had a chance late in the fourth quarter before the Tigers made one more defensive stop.
“There’s a lot of things that need to be fixed, some really bad things,” Drinkwitz said, “but it’s easier to fix after a win.”
Vanderbilt was shut out by Georgia last week and didn’t do much better on offense Saturday. Taking away the late 80-yard TD throw, the Commodores had only 219 yards total offense while going 0 for 2 in the red zone.
Missouri has likewise struggled offensively and has not scored more than 22 points in its last four games. Nathaniel Peat in particular struggled on the ground Saturday, carrying 11 times for eight yards with a fumble.
The Commodores get a week off before playing South Carolina on Nov. 5.
The Tigers visit the Gamecocks next Saturday.