Missouri wins fifth straight to become bowl eligible
Missouri didn’t look like a bowl team back in mid-October, but none of it matters now.
Drew Lock threw three touchdown passes and Missouri won its fifth straight game to become bowl eligible with its sixth victory, a 45-17 rout of Vanderbilt on Saturday night.
The Tigers (6-5, 3-4 SEC) are the second team from the Southeastern Conference to become bowl eligible after a 1-5 start.
Mississippi was the first, finishing 6-6 after an Independence Bowl loss in 1983.
Missouri is the 13th FBS team and sixth from the Power 5 conference to earn bowl eligibility after losing five of its first six games.
The Tigers became the first FBS team since 1976 to have both a five-game win streak and a five-game losing streak in the same season.
Representatives from the Liberty and TaxSlayer bowls attended the game.
“Obviously, getting to the sixth win is huge in a lot of different areas,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “Our team has showed tremendous resolve over the course of this season. Obviously, it hasn’t always been pretty and tonight wasn’t either, but we found a way.”
Lock, who entered the game as the nation’s leading TD passer, is one short of tying the Missouri single-season record of 39 and two shy of tying the SEC single-season mark of 40.
Tigers sophomore Rashaud Floyd scored twice during a 1:45 span in the second quarter on a 30-yard pass from Lock and a 74-yard punt return.
Ish Witter, who posted a career high in rushing yards in last week’s win over Tennessee, enjoyed another productive outing with 102 yards.
Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb rushed for 55 yards and one TD, making him the ninth player in SEC history to pass the 4,000-career yard milestone.
The Commodores (4-7, 0-7) finally showed some life in the second half, outscoring the Tigers 17-3 in the third quarter.
“Missouri was opportunistic,” Commodores coach Derek Mason said. “It came down to that six- or seven-minute stretch in the second quarter. They scored 28 points in the second quarter and they did it in all three phases.”
Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur threw three interceptions, giving him seven in the last two games, including four in last week’s loss to Kentucky.
Missouri scored on the game’s first possession when Lock threw a 7-yard TD pass to Albert Okwuegbunam, giving the Tigers a 7-0 lead.
Vanderbilt’s defense tightened for the rest of the quarter, but Larry Rountree’s 12-yard rushing TD, Brandon Lee’s 42-yard interception for a TD, Floyd’s TD reception from Lock and his punt return gave the Tigers a big lead.
“My teammates picked up the block on the quarterback and left one guy for me to beat and it’s just a great feeling,” Lee said of the interception return. “Yea, we’re going bowling now.”
Vanderbilt rallied with Webb’s 1-yard TD run, 7-yard TD pass from Shurmur to Caleb Scott and Tommy Openshaw’s 23-yard field goal to narrow the deficit to 38-17 in the third quarter.
Missouri is averaging 52 points during its win streak. Missouri coach Barry Odom earned a minimum $50,000 bonus for getting a bowl game. He will earn $15,000 more with a spot in a New Year’s six bowl game.
Vanderbilt got outplayed on both sides of the ball, remaining winless in the SEC. Vanderbilt suffered its seventh loss in eight games, dropping coach Derek Mason’s career record in the SEC to 5-26.
“It was a great first half,” Odom said. “Not a very good third quarter, but found a way to finish the football game. And that shows maturity and I was glad to see it show in full display tonight.”
At one point Missouri was last in the nation in turnover margin, but the Tigers have nine takeaways in the last three games. Missouri picked off three Shurmur passes. “I think trusting a little bit, having confidence and also playing at a quicker rate, a higher speed (accounts for that,)” Odom said. “And knowing when you can go take your shot. I think early in the year we had confidence, but it was fake. We hadn’t earned it yet.”
Missouri closes its regular season at Arkansas on Friday. The Tigers scored 21 unanswered points in second half of last year’s 28-24 win over the Razorbacks.
Vanderbilt visits Tennessee in its regular-season finale on Saturday. The Commodores have won three of the last five games in this series after losing 28 of the previous 29.