This is a tricky one. Tennessee is the more talented team – I feel very confident in saying that. If Tennessee plays the way it has in stretches this year – particularly the second half of the Georgia game through the first half of the South Carolina game, the Vols can certainly win, and possibly win comfortably in Columbia on Saturday night.
Talent is the first thing I look at when picking a game, but I also look at home-field advantage, recent history, coaching and motivation. Missouri has the edge in all of those, in my opinion. That makes this game tough for me to pick.
Maybe I’m overplaying the emotion/motivation factor for Missouri, but I do think UT is walking into a hornet’s nest. The Vols are bowl eligible for the second straight season, out of SEC East contention and really are jockeying for mid-tier bowl position at this point, while Missouri is looking to send its long-time coach out a winner in his home finale, while also reaching bowl eligibility so he can have one extra game with the Tigers. Advantage: Mizzou, big time.
And then there’s the fact that Tennessee can’t seem to beat Missouri, regardless of the situation. Joshua Dobbs started the last two games against the Tigers and they did a great job of limiting him. Dobbs has completed 50-of-79 passes for 435 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions while rushing 24 times for 58 yards against Missouri over the past two years. Tennessee lost both games, 31-3 in 2013 and 29-21 in 2014.
Missouri’s defensive front has done a great job keeping him in the pocket and not letting him ever feel comfortable. This Tennessee line and rushing attack is better overall, but I still think Missouri will keep it from running wild. And as poor as Mizzou’s offense has been, I think the emotion of the game and/or a big defensive play can give the Tigers just enough to get on the board a few times.
I might be crazy on this one, but I just have a bad feeling for UT. Perhaps Tennessee runs through Missouri like Mississippi State was able to a few weeks ago and I end up looking foolish, but I think Missouri finds a way on a cold night in Columbia to pick up a win for Gary Pinkel.
Pick: Missouri 17-14
MVP: LB Kentrell Brothers
I’ll pick the tackling machine at linebacker as a representative of the Missouri defense, which I think will step up and win the game for the Tigers. Look for him to pile up double-digit tackles in leading an effort that won’t completely shut down UT’s rushing attack, but will limit it enough that it will force UT to rely on the passing game – something that should make UT fans nervous.
What a strange game. Even without all the recent campus hoopla at Missouri, there’s plenty of “outside clutter” surrounding this game. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard this is Gary Pinkel’s last home game as Missouri’s head coach. The Tigers are sure to be motivated. The weather, with temps in the 20s, could play a factor in the game as well. If the forecast is correct, this will be the coldest Vol football game since 1977.
Tennessee, of course, is 0-3 against the Tigers and they haven’t been able to crack Missouri’s defense the last two seasons. The Volunteers are coming off a couple of underwhelming wins in which their offense struggled against terrible defenses. Along those lines, Butch Jones is just 2-14 against above average P5 defenses at Tennessee – with wins against South Carolina (2013) and Georgia (last month). Missouri has the No. 2 scoring defense in the SEC and they’ve held all their SEC opponents below their season scoring average. Their offense, though absolutely abysmal for much of the year, got rolling a little bit against BYU last weekend.
All the signs point toward this game being a struggle for the Vols. I’m expecting an ugly, emotional game with a few game changing plays for both teams. Though the Vols didn’t look great the last few weeks, they’re simply more talented than Missouri and they finally have the tools to challenge a tough Tiger defense. If the Vol defense can stay focused, they won’t have any trouble with a hapless Tiger offense.
It won’t be pretty, but the Vols should emerge victorious and pick up a massive road win.
Pick: Tennessee 20-13
MVP: Vol RB Jalen Hurd
Dobbs has been erratic the last few weeks so I’m expecting the coaching staff to utilize some short passes to running backs to build his confidence. Hurd is a very good receiver out of the backfield and should see a healthy amount of work toting the rock as well. If he accounts for around 100 yards of offense, the Vols should be in pretty good shape. Tennessee has faced some very good defenses this year and none of them have been able to completely shut down Hurd.