COLUMBIA, Mo. – Missouri offered up some gifts. Vanderbilt didn’t refuse the gesture.
In a game featuring two sluggish offenses, the Commodores benefited from three special teams mistakes in a 19-15 victory on Saturday night at Faurot Field.
A mishandled punt, an unusual penalty and a failed PAT boosted Vanderbilt (2-3, 1-2 SEC) to just its fourth road win since 2008.
Zac Stacy added two touchdowns and converted a huge third down on his career-high 29th carry to seal the victory. It snapped a six-game losing streak in games decided by seven points or less under second-year coach James Franklin.
“Our team found a way to win a tough one,” Franklin said. “To be able to do that on the road and against a team that has won a bunch of games in the last 12 years. It feels great to go into that locker room with them. I know how hard they worked.”
Trailing 16-9 early in the fourth quarter, Missouri (3-3, 0-3) caught a break when Corbin Berkstresser overshot a receiver but instead found Bud Sasser for an 85-yard catch-and-run touchdown. But the Tigers committed their third costly special teams snafu when they botched the extra point.
The defense redeemed itself later. After Carey Spear kicked a 21-yard field goal to give the Commodores a 19-15 lead, Missouri marched to the Vanderbilt 24. But Berkstresser threw three straight incompletions, including a misfire on fourth-and-11. He was hurried on all three plays – twice by Walker May and once by Archibald Barnes.
“In any area when the other team is struggling to do something you always want to capitalize on it,” wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. “Special teams happened to be that area this game. We were fortunate to have the botched snap but at the end of the day when they make that mistake we have to make sure we go and get on the ball. Our defense was able to do that and not give them a second chance of throwing into the end zone.”
Vanderbilt took over and ran out the clock, thanks in large part to Stacy. The senior ripped off a 13-yard run on third-and-nine. He stiffed arm one defender and bounced off another, sliding just past the first-down marker to essentially end the game with more than a minute left.
“I knew I had to get the first down. I got that and just had to stay in bounds,” said Stacy, who finished with 72 yards. “I was pretty determined. I just wanted to get the game over with.”
The Commodores also got some help when Missouri quarterback James Franklin sprained his left knee midway through the first quarter and did not return. Franklin had marched the Tigers into the red zone on their first two drives – both ending in field goals.
With the dual-threat Franklin out, Vanderbilt switched to man coverage and harassed Berkstresser. The defensive line batted down several balls to contribute to eight pass breakups and hurried the quarterback six times with one sack. Berkstresser was 9-of-30 for 189 yards.
“[Franklin] is a great player so having a great player out of the game and not being a factor was definitely a good thing for us,” defensive tackle Jared Morse said.
Vanderbilt didn’t convert a first down until the second quarter but finally scored thanks to a miscue by Missouri punter Trey Barrow. Standing nine yards deep in his own end zone, he let a good snap through his hands and out the back of the end zone. The snafu resulted in a safety and gave Vanderbilt its first two points to cut the lead to 6-2.
The Commodores caught another break late in the second quarter. Trying to get to Vanderbilt punter Richard Kent, Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson was penalized for leaping over a Vanderbilt blocker. The personal foul penalty, a new NCAA rule this year in place for player safety, gave the Commodores an automatic first down and put them at Missouri’s 21-yard line.
Four plays later, Stacy took a direct snap and scored a five-yard touchdown for a 9-6 lead with 3:47 left in the first half. He tacked on another score – a 14-yard scamper – that broke a 9-9 tie early in the fourth quarter.
“I think this is our turning point,” cornerback Andre Hal said. “We needed this win for our morale. We’ve kind of been down lately but we needed this win to bring us back up.”