Tennessee at Missouri
When: Saturday, November 21st, 2015
Where: Columbia, MO (Faurot Field)
Early line: Missouri favored by 2.5 (via Golden Nugget)
Missouri at a glance:
Head Coach: Gary Pinkel (112-66 through 14 years at Missouri)
All-time record: 663–534–53
2014 results: 11-3 (7-1 SEC)
Returning starters: 13: 7 (offense), 6 (defense)
Missouri had an odd year in 2014. It started out at home with a win over FCS South Dakota State. That was followed up with a win at Toledo and then a victory over UCF in Columbia. The next week, Mizzou played Indiana, a bottom-tier Big Ten team that finished 2014 with a record of 4-8. One of Indiana’s four wins was against Missouri. Inexplicably the Tigers coughed up what should have been a snoozer and lost to Indiana AT HOME. It’s still completely baffling.
Something even more baffling happened the next week. Missouri, who we all assumed was as good as dead for the rest of the season after the embarrassing loss the week before, traveled to South Carolina and beat the 13th ranked Gamecocks on the road 21-20.
No one knew what to think about the Tigers at this point and things didn’t get any easier to decipher two weeks later when Missouri got absolutely demolished by Georgia at home 34-0.
After this misstep it appeared Georgia had control of the East and Missouri might be in for a dismal season. Surprisingly, Mizzou took care of its business and didn’t lose again for the remainder of the season. And Mark Richt went and did Mark Richt things and Georgia got whipped by Florida, giving Missouri an SEC East title for the second year in a row.
A team that lost to Indiana at home won the SEC East. Football is weird sometimes.
During the postseason, the Tigers never stood a chance in the SEC Championship and got manhandled by a powerful Alabama team 42-13 but they got the job done in the Citrus Bowl against Minnesota 33-17 and, yet again, the Tigers had a strangely successful season.
Sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk was good – not great – in 2014, throwing for 2648 yards, 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Junior running back Russell Hansbrough led the Tigers with 1084 yards on the ground and 10 TDs. Defense was Missouri’s strong suit in 2014. The Tigers finished with the 4th best rushing defense in the SEC and the 6th best passing defense.
Three early questions for the 2015 matchup:
1. How will Missouri’s defense fare after losing some of its best players?
Missouri has effectively become Defensive Line U in recent years after churning out players like Michael Sam and Kony Ealy in 2013 and Markus Golden and Shane Ray in 2014. Can Missouri keep up this trend in 2015 even after losing two of the best defensive linemen in America?
Though junior DT Harold Brantley, who had 54 tackles and five sacks in 2014, will miss the 2015 season after a car accident this summer, sophomore DE Charles Harris, who led the team in sacks during the spring and could essentially be Missouri’s version of Derek Barnett, does return. Five-star defensive tackle signee Terry Beckner Jr., is young, but has the raw talent to be as good as anybody in the SEC in time. Linebacker Kentrell Brothers, who tallied 122 tackles last year, will back up the d-line. It’s a slightly inexperienced, but potentially strong set of players the Tigers will field. Though, it may not be at the same level of the defenses that saved the Tigers so many times over the last two seasons. If Missouri’s defense can’t make the difference that it did last year, they’ll have to rely more their offense to win games. Which leads to question #2…
2. Where will Missouri find offense?
Maty Mauk was supposed to be better than he’s been. He’s been fairly good but generally speaking, Mauk has been underwhelming. If he has another lackluster year in 2015, the Tigers will look to lean on returning running back Russell Hansbrough. Hansbrough will be Missouri’s most important offensive player. Mauk has been inconsistent getting the ball to receivers and he doesn’t have much to choose from at wideout. He will have one senior to throw to in Wesley Leftwich, who has a grand total of three career catches. One running back does not an entire offense make, so, either Mauk has to find a way to make plays himself or Hansbrough will have to be a total work horse. Needless to say, Missouri’s offense is its biggest question mark heading into the 2015 season.
3. Will Missouri’s schedule work against the Tigers?
Tennessee will face Missouri during the second to last week of the season, November 21st. Missouri will be coming off of back-to-back games against Mississippi State and BYU, neither are teams to scoff at. Tennessee will be coming off of a game against North Texas. This sets up nicely for Missouri to be tired physically and mentally from two tough games at the end of an entire SEC slate and Tennessee to be coming off of a relatively breezy week. Obviously, the Vols will also be at the end of a schedule full of rough games but if UT can come in with extra energy that the Tigers lack, they could have a leg up before the game even starts.
How do we expect it to play out?
This is a tough one to predict as it’s basically a pick’em game. Vegas thinks Mizzou has a slight edge, and a completely back and forth game is expected. As of right now, no one has a distinct advantage. We’ll say the Vols have the final edge because they appear to have more talent at almost every position but that talent is currently inexperienced.
It will be a hard fought game but the Vols win in a nail-biter.