Springfield, Mo. (OzarksSportsZone.com) -- Mizzou travels to face Vanderbilt in its first SEC game of the season on Saturday.
The Tigers are the only SEC team yet to play a conference game, so expectations are ratcheting up for Mizzou.
"They are all big tests. It is the next big test. The next one is bigger and bigger,” Mizzou head coach Gary Pinkel said. “I think we will see overall from our non-conference schedule to our conference schedule, there is no question. The competition is tougher and more competitive and that is good."
Vanderbilt sits at 3-2 overall with an 0-2 record in conference with losses to Ole Miss and South Carolina, which are both teams with just one loss each.
Even with the increased competition of SEC play, Mizzou’s players maintain they are treating preparation the same.
"Honestly, the coaches have done a great job of saying that we are going to continue to play and practice like we have all year. We didn't take it easy or practice easier because it was a non-conference game,” sophomore lineman Evan Boehm said. “We went out there, and practiced just like as if we were in Alabama, Florida or Tennessee. That is what has really helped us out a lot here. Coach Henson and Coach Walker and the rest of the offensive coaches have kept on us that we need to practice to get better each and every day."
Quarterback James Franklin echoed the sentiment.
"It is just like every other game. We are going to prepare the best we can, for any opponent we face,” Franklin said. “We aren't going to let it get to our heads, and psych us out or anything like that. Just prepare as best we can."
Last year, Mizzou fell 19-15 to Vanderbilt at home in a game the Tigers played without Dorial Green-Beckham and also went a long stretch without James Franklin due to injury. Franklin was just 5-for-9 in the game for 56 yards last year.
Franklin’s health is the biggest change Vanderbilt’s head coach James Franklin sees in the Tigers.
“James Franklin has been impressive. You are talking about a guy who is able to hurt you with his feet and athleticism. He is a big, strong guy. He has a very strong arm and is a good decision maker,” Vanderbilt’s head coach James Franklin said. The fact that he (James Franklin) is healthy this year and playing well I think is the reason that they are undefeated.”
Franklin is fifth in the SEC in passing yards with 1,129, just behind Vanderbilt’s quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels. He is also one of four Mizzou players in the top 25 in the SEC in rushing yards.
Green-Beckham will also be a major factor in this game after sitting out last season’s contest. He is sixth in the SEC in receiving yards at 334, and is third in the SEC in yards per catch among the players with at least 20 receptions. Teammate L’Damian Washington is 10th in the SEC with 254 receiving yards.
As much as the Tigers are looking to treat this as any other game, a win would go a long way to validate that 4-0 record and send a statement to the SEC.
“I think it proves that we can win within the conference, and also be successful on the road. Winning on the road is something that great football teams have to do, and everybody obviously has to play away games,” senior corner back E.J. Gaines said. “Starting off with a road conference game is going to be pretty exciting."
Mizzou kicks off against Vanderbilt at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday in Nashville, Tenn.
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