The Tennessee Volunteers’ (7-3, 3-3 SEC) chances of making it to Atlanta as SEC East champions got a little better last week after knocking off Kentucky 49-36 in Knoxville. However, Tennessee still needs to beat both Missouri this Saturday and Vanderbilt over Thanksgiving weekend in order to get the nod. The Vols are set to host the Tigers in Knoxville for the first of those two matchups. It’s a must-win game for Tennessee, but it isn’t the only SEC game of monumental importance to the Vols on Saturday. In addition to sweeping its final two SEC opponents, the Volunteers also need a helping hand from LSU against Florida to keep their divisional title hopes afloat.
The Missouri Tigers (3-7, 1-5) managed to snap a five-game losing streak, as well as an 11-game drought in SEC play, by scoring their first conference victory of the season last week over Vanderbilt. They now head into Saturday’s matchup against Tennessee with some much-needed momentum, and an opportunity to play the role of spoiler. The Tigers would like nothing more than to dash the Volunteers’ SEC East title hopes with a victory in Knoxville. It would provide a nice consolation for a Mizzou team that has no shot at making a bowl game.
Missouri at Tennessee
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 19 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Tennessee -16
Three Things to Watch
1. Rushing Yards a Plenty
The Tennessee ground game appears to be alive and well behind the three-pronged attack of Joshua Dobbs, Alvin Kamara and John Kelly. The trio combined for 369 rushing yards and four touchdowns last week against Kentucky. The Vols will look to better those numbers this week with an even more favorable matchup against Missouri. The Tigers’ porous run defense is giving up 225 yards on the ground per game, which ranks No. 109 in the country (No. 13 in the SEC).
Missouri should have plenty of success with its run game as well. The Volunteers are allowing 216 rushing yards per game (No. 102 in the nation) and gave up a ridiculous 443 yards to a potent Kentucky ground game just last week. The Missouri rushing attack isn’t quite as formidable as Kentucky’s, but freshman running back Damarea Crockett, who is averaging 6.5 yards per carry, will be a handful for a depleted Volunteer defense. There should be no shortage of rushing yards between these two teams on Saturday.
2. The Missouri Passing Game vs. Tennessee Pass Defense
A depleted Tennessee defense will have its hands full trying to contain the Missouri run game on Saturday. But if that wasn’t enough, the Vols also will be charged with trying to slow down a dangerous passing game led by sophomore quarterback Drew Lock and junior wide receiver J’Mon Moore. Lock leads the SEC with 2,811 passing yards, while Moore’s 743 receiving yards rank second in the conference. Tennessee also will have to contend with a Mizzou offensive line that has allowed the fewest sacks (11) in the SEC.
The Tennessee pass defense has taken its lumps this season, especially when it comes to injuries. But all things considered, the results have been reasonably favorable. The Vols rank 31st in the nation in passing yards allowed (200 ypg). And while they will have their work cut out for them trying to defend Missouri’s high-powered passing game, the Vols should match up relatively well. SEC sack leader Derek Barnett, who needs just two to tie Reggie White for the most sacks in Tennessee history, has the skill set to overcome a stout Missouri offensive line. And a healthy Cameron Sutton will provide the Vols with a much-needed lockdown presence in the secondary.
3. Boom or Bust for Joshua Dobbs?
While Dobbs will do his best to make his final game inside Neyland Stadium a success on Saturday, there are a couple of areas of concern regarding the Tennessee passing attack. The Missouri pass rush, led by defensive end Charles Harris, has accounted for 10 sacks in its last two contests. Dobbs has a tendency to make poor decisions under pressure, and a Tennessee offensive line that has allowed 21 sacks so far this season has struggles against elite pass rushers. Dobbs’ SEC-leading 12 interceptions are indicative of his issues under duress. An opportunistic Mizzou defense that leads the SEC with 13 interceptions will make Dobbs pay for any mistakes.
On the bright side, there should be ample opportunity to make some splash plays though the air against a fairly generous Missouri pass defense, particularly if Tennessee’s offensive line can give Dobbs enough time. The Tigers rank 12th in the SEC and No. 78 nationally against the pass (239 ypg), leaving plenty of room for optimism. Dobbs’ dual-threat capabilities should help keep the Tiger defense off balance. He should have no trouble finding success with his legs against the leaky Missouri run defense. All in all, the senior quarterback’s prospects of going out with a bang in front of the home crowd appear promising.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not a foolproof matchup for Tennessee. Missouri has an offense that is more than capable of doing some serious damage against a beat-up Volunteer defense. The Tigers also have a renewed sense of confidence after scoring their first SEC win of the season last week. If Tennessee wants to avoid a similar result to the one it had against South Carolina, the Vols cannot afford to take Missouri lightly.
Tennessee has been playing with a rejuvenated spirit of its own as of late in spite of several setbacks. Butch Jones’ team will need a complete effort to avoid the upset. But with so much at stake for the Volunteers on Saturday, there will be no shortage of motivation. They should have enough firepower to outlast the Tigers in front of the home crowd on Senior Day. And provided they receive a little help from LSU against the Gators, they will find themselves one step closer to an SEC East title.
Prediction: Tennessee 41, Missouri 31
Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.