No. 23 Missouri looks to continue strong start at Vanderbilt

Leaving little margin for error during its unbeaten start, No. 23 Missouri now heads to Vanderbilt on Saturday for its Southeastern Conference opener in Nashville, Tenn.The Tigers (4-0, 0-0 SEC) have beaten their only three FBS foes (MTSU, Kansas State and Memphis) by a combined 14 points. That was good enough for The Associated Press voters to rank Missouri for the first time since 2019.”Our goal wasn’t to be ranked,” Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said Tuesday. “Our goal is to play for a championship, and this week needs to be 1-0. So … all that is just noise to us. We don’t get caught up in it.”The Tigers got to this point by taking care of the ball (two turnovers in 256 snaps) and playing good defense (4.7 yards allowed per play).The trio of wide receiver Luther Burden (32 catches, 504 yards, three touchdowns), quarterback Brady Cook (1,073 yards, seven touchdowns, no interceptions) and running back Cody Schrader (league-leading 403 yards, two TDs) leads the Tigers’ offense.The Missouri defensive backfield has also been a strength. Kris Abrams-Draine, a preseason All-SEC second-team pick, has a pair of interceptions and five breakups, while Daylan Carnell has five tackles for loss.Defensive lineman Johnny Walker Jr. has three sacks, picking up the slack for preseason All-SEC third-team pick Darius Robinson, who left with an injury in the first quarter last Saturday against Memphis and is questionable for Saturday.”Darius is battling a strained calf that has really plagued him,” Drinkwitz said. “He keeps trying to go and then at some point in the game, it always goes out on him.”Not much has gone well lately for the Commodores (2-3, 0-1), who have turned the ball over nine times during a three-game losing streak. Four of those miscues were returned for touchdowns and three others gave opponents possession deep in Vanderbilt territory.A major culprit has been quarterback AJ Swann, who has thrown seven interceptions. He had two pick-sixes in last weekend’s 45-28 home loss to Kentucky.”Too often we’re throwing the ball into traffic as if the defense isn’t there,” Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea said Tuesday.