Sep 28, 2013; Columbia, MO, USA; Missouri Tigers quarterback James Franklin (1) is pressured by Arkansas State Red Wolves defensive end Chris Stone (42) during the second half of the game between the Missouri Tigers and the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Faurot Field. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
(KSDK Sports) -- The Missouri Tigers put their unbeaten record on the line yet again, as they open SEC play on Saturday night in Nashville against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Missouri has won each of its first four games, marking the team's best start since the 2010 campaign when it began with seven straight victories. The Tigers hosted Arkansas State last Saturday and pulled away late to claim a 41-19 triumph, and head coach Gary Pinkel is just seven wins away from tying Don Faurot for the program record of 101.
Vanderbilt is off to a disappointing 0-2 start in the SEC, losing an opening- night heartbreaker at home to Ole Miss (39-35), and at South Carolina on Sept. 14 (35-25). The good news for the Commodores is that they have played very well outside of the nation's toughest conference with three wins, including a 52-24 thumping of UAB last weekend.
The series between these two teams is knotted at 2-2-1. Vanderbilt went into Columbia last October and came away with a 19-15 victory.
Missouri's offense is clicking on all cylinders, as the team ranks second in the SEC in scoring (45.5 ppg) and third in yardage (549.0 ypg). One of the more balanced teams in the country, the Tigers are one of only four teams in the FBS averaging at least 260 rushing and 280 passing yards per contest.
James Franklin has been outstanding under center for Mizzou, completing nearly 68 percent of his passes for 1,129 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions. He is also a dangerous threat outside the pocket, adding 53.8 ypg with another two scores rushing.
The Tigers' three-headed monster at running back ran wild during the first month of the season. Russell Hansbrough leads the team with 335 yards while scoring three touchdowns, with Henry Josey (238 yards, four TDs) and Marcus Murphy (224 yards, four TDs) also performing well.
Franklin has the luxury of throwing to one of the nation's best receiving corps. Dorial Green-Beckham has emerged as a dominant downfield threat with 21 receptions for 334 yards and four touchdowns, while Marcus Lucas (21 receptions, 202 yards) and L'Damian Washington (19 receptions, 254 yards, three TDs) have been consistent in moving the chains.
Although Missouri may be defined by its high-flying offense, its defense has been every bit as important in helping the team achieve its goals this season. The unit has exceeded all expectations by allowing just 21.0 ppg and fewer than 400 total yards per contest.
With 10 interceptions, the Tigers are tied for third-most in the nation, with E.J. Gaines leading the way with three picks. Gaines is also the team's leading tackler with 26 stops, while Michael Sam creates a strong push up front with 17 total tackles, 7.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks and a forced fumble.
Surprisingly, Vanderbilt has one of the SEC's most dependable offenses, scoring 34.8 ppg behind 416.4 ypg, while converting 44 percent of its third- down attempts and nearly all of its fourth down tries (6-of-7).
Austyn Carta-Samuels is fresh off a career-best performance last weekend with 334 passing yards and three total touchdowns. The senior signal caller has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for 1,223 yards with 12 touchdowns (four rushing), although he has been plagued by five interceptions.
The Commodores have arguably the nation's best receiver on their side in Jordan Matthews, as he ranks second in the FBS in receptions (40) and fourth in yards (586), while scoring four touchdowns. The 6-foot-3 senior has topped 100 yards in four of five games this year and 14 times in his career. Jonathan Krause (19 receptions, 349 yards, TD) has taken advantage of plenty of single coverage opportunities playing opposite Matthews.
Jerron Seymour (286 yards, six TDs) leads the team in rushing, with Wesley Tate (244 yards, three TDs) also getting his fair share of work.
Vanderbilt has a strong defense to pair with its effective offense, as it holds its opponents to 21.6 ppg and 363.7 ypg.
Kenny Ladler, Javon Marshall and Darreon Herring each have at least 30 tackles, with Ladler and Herring each intercepting a pass as well. Kyle Woestmann (3.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks) and Caleb Azubike (4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) serve as anchors along the defensive line.
While Missouri has been impressive this season, it hasn't faced a test as difficult as this SEC road matchup. The Tigers came out sluggish against Arkansas State at home last week before pulling away late, and a slow start against Vandy could spell doom. The home field advantage and some big stops on defense will keep the Commodores close, but expect Franklin to make a big play late that will make the difference.