COLUMBIA — The Vanderbilt football team didn't have many fans cheering them on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, but it didn't matter.
Vanderbilt beat Missouri 19-15 after crucial mistakes on special teams cost the Tigers a chance to overcome the first-quarter loss of quarterback James Franklin.
After the game, a loud voice could be heard screaming from the Missouri locker room through a metal door. It was Sheldon Richardson. The senior defensive tackle was clearly distraught.
"We're better than that," Richardson screamed, as someone tried to calm him down.
"It better hurt, man," he continued.
Richardson had reason to be upset. His team had just squandered a chance to win its first SEC game.
"Everything, angry, frustration, and they should be," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "They're competitors. They want to win. They want to be successful. This is not the fun part of playing or coaching. How we handle it is going to be the most important thing."
With 13:32 left in the game and the Tigers trailing 16-9, Missouri finally broke through with a touchdown. After taking a sack at the Missouri 15-yard line, quarterback Corbin Berkstresser, who replaced Franklin, found receiver Bud Sasser with a deep pass down the right sideline. Sasser brought it in and raced straight ahead to the end zone, reaching the goal line just before the Commodores defenders closed in on him. The 85-yard touchdown catch was the longest score for Missouri since 1976.
However, the Tigers failed to tie the game after a bad snap foiled the extra point attempt. Special teams mistakes have hurt Missouri all season.
"Coach (David) Yost always had the term, 'If a quarterback made a bad pass, he's not a bad quarterback. He just made a bad pass. If he makes a bad snap he's not a bad snapper. He just made a bad snap,'" kicker Andrew Baggett said.
Missouri has had plenty of bad snaps and passes this season.
The Commodores added a field goal to go up 19-15 and forced a turnover on downs at the Vanderbilt 25-yard line. Had the Tigers made their extra point attempt earlier, they would have had a chance to tie the game with a field goal. Baggett made all three of his field goal attempts in the game.
Instead, Berkstresser's last pass, like 21 of his 30 attempts, fell incomplete. The Commodores were able to run out the clock on the game's final drive. Berkstresser finished the game with 185 yards and one touchdown.
The game's first six points came from Baggett, who made a 31-yard field goal after Missouri's opening drive for the first three. The kick was set up by a drive with a 17-yard run from Kendial Lawrence and a 25-yard run by Marcus Murphy on an end-around. Murphy dislocated his right ring finger on the play and was out for the rest of the game.
After the Missouri defense quickly forced a Vanderbilt three-and-out, the Tigers moved into Vanderbilt territory with a pair of catches over the middle by junior receiver Marcus Lucas for 18 and 16 yards.
Franklin scrambled for 23 yards down to the Vanderbilt 14-yard line before the offense stalled to set up a 28-yard field goal by Baggett to put Missouri up 6-0 with 6:39 in the first quarter. On the run, Franklin took a shot to his left knee from the helmet of a Vanderbilt defensive player. He left the game with a sprained MCL and did not return. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Franklin will be "out for a few weeks."
When Berkstresser replaced him, the offense turned ugly. Berkstresser fumbled a snap from under center on third-and-2 from the Missouri 35-yard line to end his first drive.
The Missouri defense held Vanderbilt. After a delay of game penalty led to Vanderbilt to punt rather than attempt a 52-yard field goal. The Tigers offense took over from the Missouri 2-yard line.
After failing to move the ball, Missouri had another crucial special teams mistake.
On an attempt to punt, the snap went through the hands of punter Trey Barrow. Because Missouri was so far backed into its own end zone, Barrrow could not stand the usual 15 yards behind the line. He had to try and catch the ball from just 11 yards away from the snapper. The ball went out of bounds in the back of the end zone for a safety, to give Vanderbilt its first two points of the game.
"It was just my fault," Barrow said. "I should have made the play."
After the safety, Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews returned the free kick 32 yards to the Missouri 39-yard line. But the Vanderbilt offense failed to get a first down on the drive. Tigers' senior defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson came up with a stop on fourth down when he tackled Commodores running back Zac Stacy for a loss of 3 yards.
The Missouri offense could not take advantage of the turnover on downs. The only first down gained on the Tigers' next drive was a result of a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty. The drive ended with a Barrow punt that went for a touchback after cornerback Kip Edwards failed in his diving attempt to bat the ball back before it crossed the goal line.
Richardson sacked Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers on third down to force the Commodores to punt back to the Tigers with 9:44 left in the second quarter, but the Missouri offense stalled again, and the Tigers punted.
The flurry of punts continued until a Missouri penalty extended a Vanderbilt drive. On a Vanderbilt punt from the Missouri 36-yard line, Richardson was called for a personal foul that gave the Commodores 15 yards and an automatic first down. Four plays later, Stacy ran the ball 5 yards into the end zone for a Vanderbilt touchdown, giving the Commodores a 9-6 lead with 3:47 remaining in the second quarter.
The Missouri offense continued to struggle. Berkstresser got his first completion of the game on his seventh pass attempt, but the 6-yard catch by junior receiver Jaleel Clark was not enough to move the chains for Missouri.
The Tigers trailed the Commodores 9-6 entering the second half.
In the third quarter, the offensive futility continued. Four of the first five possessions for either team ended with a punt. The other ended when Edwards intercepted an under-thrown pass from Rodgers, but the Tigers failed to take advantage of the turnover.
Even Missouri's big plays were sloppy. Berkstresser completed a pass to Lucas, who fumbled after a 15-yard gain. Missouri junior receiver Bud Sasser scooped up the loose ball and ran down the sideline for an extra 16 yards. Sasser ended the game with a bizarre stat line of one catch, 101 receiving yards and a touchdown.
The play sparked a 15-play, 88-yard drive to set up a game-tying field goal by Baggett.
With the game tied 9-9 with 30 seconds left in the third quarter, the Vanderbilt offense turned to trick plays. Matthews gained 19 yards on a reverse to the left side of the field. On the next play, Rodgers handed off to Stacy, who then threw a pass back across the field to a wide-open Rodgers for a gain of 24 yards to the Missouri 32-yard line.
Three plays later, Stacy busted through the middle of the field on a 14-yard touchdown run, giving Vanderbilt the lead they never gave up.
Now Missouri will face No. 1 ranked Alabama next Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Still without an SEC victory, Edwards said the team is still sticking together.
"We are brothers in there," Edwards said. "We're just frustrated that our hard work's not paying off right now."