Editor’s note: For SEC games this season, Daniel Lewis will put together a blueprint for how Tennessee can have its best chance to knock off that week’s opponent. It’s written from a Tennessee coach’s mindset and isn’t necessarily representative of how RTI predicts the game to go.
Offense: We got somewhat of a break the last two games against South Carolina and Kentucky in terms of overall talent and execution on defense. That doesn’t take away from the fact that we’ve been executing at a high level, but this week will be Joshua Dobbs’ biggest challenge to date as a starter – a top-5 SEC and top-25 national defense that’s had a chance to prepare for him and our new-look offense.
There aren’t any significant holes on Missouri’s defense. It’s respectable against the pass (7th in the SEC), pretty good against the run (6th), doesn’t allow many big plays (3rd in the SEC in yards/play at 4.62) and it’s exceptionally good at getting after the passer and turning you over.
Those last two things will be the biggest keys for us this week. We have to protect Joshua Dobbs and take care of the football. Our offensive line has stepped up significantly since the Ole Miss game, there’s no doubting that. Dobbs has been a big factor as well, erasing several would-be sacks by making defenders miss or getting outside the pocket. Missouri’s tandem of defensive ends will be the best we’ll see all season, however. Both certainly can hurt us, but if we’re going to take our chances with one of them, it’ll be Markus Golden and then we’ll help on Shane Ray, a potential top-10 draft pick, when we can.
We should have no doubt that Dobbs will be able to move the football. As a true freshman on the road, facing a Missouri defense that was as good if not better than this one, Dobbs put up 285 yards of total offense. Holding onto the football was the problem in that 31-3 loss. He turned it over three times and this Missouri team is third in the league with a +7 turnover margin. We’ve done a much better job protecting the football in recent weeks and that trend needs to continue.
We’ll start with the run game again. We’ve averaged 246.3 yards rushing in the three games that Dobbs has been the primary QB in. We don’t have the running backs that Georgia has, but we can take a play out of their playbook from their dominant win at Missouri – run right at that defensive line, stay in front of the chains and don’t let those defensive ends get in situations where they can pin their ears back and create big plays.
We’ll keep our routes short and crisp and move Dobbs around when we do throw. We saw against Kentucky last week what some of our receivers can do if we just get the ball in their hands quickly. We don’t need 40 points in this particular game. Our goal will be to win the field position battle, wear Missouri’s defense out and move the ball enough to get at least 28-31 points or so on the board. If we do that, we’ll have a good shot in this one.
Defense: We have to stop the run first. Missouri is 8th in the conference with 177.4 yards per game on the ground and Russell Hansbrough is coming off a 199-yard performance against Texas A&M on Saturday and Marcus Murphy is a threat every time he touches the ball – either on offense or special teams.
Maty Mauk is part of that ground game as well. He isn’t putting Dobbs-like numbers up on the ground, but he’s rushed for 299 yards this season and he had over 100 against us last year. Containing him and obstructing his view will be key. Make him stay in the pocket and then force him (he’s only 6-feet at best) to throw over our defensive line, which will need to keep their hands up to make life difficult on him.
His accuracy (53.1%) hasn’t been very good this year and he’s thrown 10 interceptions on the season. He’s not a guy that will sit back in the pocket and pick us apart. He’s most dangerous when he runs around, extends plays and makes plays with his feet or finds Bud Sasser on the scramble drill. We’re going to get numbers in the box, contain Mauk, leave our defense in a lot of man coverage or possibly some man-free with some help over the top.
And speaking of Sasser, he’s the guy we have to identify in the receiving game with 701 yards and eight touchdowns. We’ll match Cam Sutton up with him as much as possible.
Communication is the huge question this week with A.J. Johnson out and Brian Randolph missing for the first half. We’ll simplify the calls, use Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Jakob Johnson to help get everybody lined up on the defensive front and then veterans Cam Sutton, LaDarrell McNeil and Justin Coleman need to make sure the secondary has its assignments straight.