Tribune Mizzou athletics reporter Eric Blum spoke with Adam Sparks of The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville ahead of Missouri's game at Vanderbilt on Saturday.

Sparks has been covering Vanderbilt sports since 2014, the same year coach Derek Mason took the helm of the Commodores.

Sparks breaks down the state of the Vanderbilt football program, the Commodores' chances to pull an upset and more.

The conversation has been slightly edited for length and clarity.

Blum: How are things in Nashville?

Sparks: Around the Vanderbilt program, things are pretty cold, but I don’t know if it has to do with the weather. It’s a pretty tough stretch of the season right now, but it’s homecoming, so maybe this turns the corner for the Commodores. I don’t know that the prospects are too good right now.

Blum: A record of 1-5 doesn’t look great for Vanderbilt, but how is the energy overall?

Sparks: The narrative of the season has changed a couple of times already. Vanderbilt was expected by anyone reasonable to start off the year either 1-2 or 0-3. They played Georgia and LSU in two of their first three games, so you expected losses. And when those happened, you expected them to pick up some wins after that. Well, they barely beat Northern Illinois, they got blown out by Mississippi, they got blown out by UNLV this past week, which was a shocker to say the least. UNLV was not a good team; it was blown out by other mid-majors like Wyoming. Words like panic and urgency and phrases like 'coach getting fired' and 'quarterback getting benched' and 'where do we go from here?' Those have come up since the loss to UNLV. Vanderbilt is a team in flux right now and they have a coach right now that may be on the hot seat. If he didn't have a long-term contract in place, I think Derek Mason’s seat would be red-hot.

Blum: What would’ve been considered a successful season? Is there still time to salvage that or is it more damage control?

Sparks: I think it’s damage control. A reasonable goal was a bowl game, six wins. Vanderbilt has done that two of the last three years and that’s why I thought Mason was perfectly safe — not to mention he has about four or five years left on his contract. Vanderbilt is a private school, so we don’t know, but it’s a long-term deal still in place. Only one other coach has led the Commodores to two bowl games in three years besides Mason, and that was James Franklin, who was the coach before Mason and is now the head coach at Penn State. What looked to be a 6-6 season, now it’s reasonable to say Vanderbilt may go 2-10 or 3-9. To salvage the season and give Mason a little bit of stability, the Commodores are going to have to win a couple of SEC games down the stretch. I don’t think Missouri is anywhere near the top of that list of possible wins. If Vanderbilt wins this game, it would probably be a season-saver, maybe a job-saver for Mason.

Blum: Do you think that the 21-point spread against Missouri is fair? Do you think Vanderbilt covers?

Sparks: I picked Missouri to cover. I think that point spread is perfectly fine. A lot of times you’ll think, 'What Vandy team are you going to get: the one that scored 38 against LSU or the one that scored six against Ole Miss and 10 against UNLV?’ The rule rather than the exception is that Vanderbilt’s offense is not going to move the ball. It might score an early touchdown because the Commodores score early and then nothing after that. The rule is that they’ll give up 30 to 40 points, and because Missouri has a good offense, I would say it would be more of the top end of that. I could see like 45-17, 38-13 type of game.

Blum: If Vanderbilt can get any closer than that, will it come from its offensive skill guys? Or will it be from the defense?

Sparks: The defense has gotten a handful of turnovers, but that was early in the year. So the formula for Vanderbilt to have any chance at winning this game would be that the defense gets some turnovers, because I don't have any faith in the Commodores stopping Missouri. Offensively, it has to come from running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn. They haven’t been able to find tight end Jared Pinkney in the passing game, and Kalija Lipscomb has been a little injured. Vaughn put up 130 on LSU, 138 on Northern Illinois and 140 on UNLV, and he’s putting up 100-plus on very few carries. The problem is Missouri knows that.