Preview: Tennessee at Missouri

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    Tennessee (6-4) at Missouri (5-5)

    Saturday, 7:15 p.m. ET

    Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium (75,598) • Columbia, Missouri

    TV: ESPN2

    Line: Tennessee by 7

    Series Record: Missouri leads 3-0

     Setting the table

    The Vols rebounded from a rocky start to the season by winning four of their last five games, but they haven’t looked great the last two weeks in wins over South Carolina and North Texas. Tennessee struggled to run the football against South Carolina’s defense – the worst rushing defense in the league statistically. Last weekend, Tennessee couldn’t efficiently throw the football against one of the nation’s worst passing defenses. Missouri’s offense has been a train wreck all season but found its stride a little in a win over BYU last Saturday. Before that victory, the Tigers had lost four straight. This will be the last home game for Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel, who is retiring after the season and is in a battle with cancer.  This will surely be an emotional night for the Tigers.

     Who has the edge

    When Tennessee throws…

    Joshua Dobbs struggled the throw the football against North Texas and Missouri’s defense, ranked 17th in the nation against the pass, is a decidedly tougher challenge than Dobbs faced in Neyland last Saturday. The Tigers have held every SEC opponent under their season scoring average this season. Dobbs shredded the SEC’s top ranked passing defense (Georgia) last month but has been largely inconsistent the last few weeks. Missouri should be able to pressure him, contain him and make him beat them with his arm. That won’t be an easy task against a stout defense on a cold and windy evening.  Edge: Missouri

    When Tennessee runs…

    This is a strength on strength matchup. The Tigers boast the third ranked rushing defense in the conference while the Vols have the second ranked rushing attack in the SEC. Tennessee put up solid numbers on the ground against Alabama (132 yards) and Florida (254 yards), the top-2 rushing defenses in the league, and should be able to find some running room against Missouri. Edge: Tennessee

    When Missouri throws…

    The Tigers are atrocious offensively. They rank 13th in the SEC in passing offense at 176.8 ypg and they’ve thrown just 10 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. Missouri also stands at dead last in the SEC in scoring offense and total offense. Tiger quarterback Drew Lock had a decent game against BYU in his last outing (19/28 for 244 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception) and the Vols have given up some big plays through the air this year, but this matchup should favor the men in orange. Edge: Tennessee

    When Missouri runs…

    Missouri’s rushing attack has been abysmal this season – they rank last in the SEC at 120 yards per game. The Tiger offensive front has struggled to push anyone around and Tennessee’s defensive front should make things tough on the Tiger rushing attack for much of the game. That’s been the story for UT’s defense this year. They have been very good for long stretches before surrendering a few game changing big plays. Tennessee’s ability to remain focused throughout the game and limit any big plays, even when Missouri’s offense is seemingly sputtering, will be key to a Vol win. Edge: Tennessee

    On special teams…

    Missouri has an edge at kicker where Andrew Baggett (15/19 on field goal attempts) gives the Tigers a statistical edge at kicker. The Tigers rank last in the SEC in kickoff return defense – look for Evan Berry to have another big day if he gets a crack at a return. Missouri is one of the worst return teams in the conference and shouldn’t be able to manufacture any game changing plays against UT’s solid coverage units. Punting is a statistical wash – the Vols and Tigers rank 2nd and 3rd in the SEC in punting. Edge: Tennessee

     What Missouri is thinking

    This isn’t the season we expected to have but we’re playing our best football. Tennessee is 0-3 against us and they haven’t been able to crack our defense – which is one of the nation’s best yet again. We can get bowl eligible with a victory and we’re ready to send our coach out with a big home win.

     What Tennessee is thinking

    It’s time for us to finally beat the Tigers. They’re very good defensively but we moved the ball against good defenses all year. Our defense should be able to shut down their offense even if our offense sputters. We’re ready for a fight but if we play our game, we’re not losing this game.

     What RTI is thinking

    The Vols have struggled against above average defenses under Butch Jones and Missouri’s defense poses a big challenge for the Volunteers, especially on a cold night on the road in Pinkel’s last home game. The Tiger offense showed some signs of life last week, but the Vol defense should make things tough on them. We’re expecting an ugly game – but an ugly game Tennessee should win if they take care of the football and stay focused.