Tennessee’s defense overall is fairly on par with Florida’s this season. Any other year and that would be a huge compliment to the Vols. But this season has seen a dramatic drop off for the Gators on that side of the ball. True, Tennessee’s defense has played better overall than last year, but the Vols’ defense still isn’t exactly potent.
But you know what is potent? That Missouri offense. And they could have a field day with Tennessee.
Drew Lock is the best pure passer the Vols will face this season at quarterback. He needs just 205 yards to reach 3,000 on the season, and he could easily get that against a Tennessee secondary that has rarely been tested this season. Not only that, but the Tigers’ run game has come alive in recent weeks, averaging 195 yards a game in their last three contests, which have all been wins.
The Vols catch a little break in the fact that it looks like Missouri’s second leading rusher, Damerea Crockett, will miss this game. If you remember, he ran wild on Tennessee last year to the tune of a career-high 225 yards in a 63-37 loss to the Vols. Even without him, the Tigers have a more than capable rushing attack helped out by an offensive line that’s allowed the fewest tackles for loss in the SEC this season.
Tennessee should be able to take advantage of a weak Missouri defense as long as the offensive line can hold up. And if Jarrett Guarantano is truly healthy, expect him to post some solid numbers. But I don’t think this Vols offense is capable of scoring enough points to keep up with an electric Missouri offense. Tennessee may keep it close for a decent amount of the game, but I expect Missouri to pull away.
Pick: Missouri 45-20
MVP: Drew Lock, QB
Missouri’s offense lives and dies by Drew Lock’s hand. In Missouri’s four wins this season, Lock has completed 72.6 percent of his passes and tossed 21 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions. In the Tigers’ five losses, Lock has completed just 51.8 percent of his attempts and has 10 touchdowns compared to six interceptions. The Vols haven’t had much success rushing the passer this season consistently, and they’re tied for the fewest interceptions in the SEC with four. If Lock is on, expect Missouri to pile on the points.
This is going to be a frustrating game for Vol fans. Because this is the week that Tennessee’s pass defense finally regresses back to what we expected from them coming into the year. Bob Shoop’s pass defense has been exceptional this season. But that’s all going to change against Drew Lock.
Tennessee will have to score a lot of points to keep up with this fast-paced offense. And I don’t think that an injured Jarrett Guarantano can out-duel these Tigers. If he was 100% healthy, I think this game would be a lot closer. But Tennessee’s inability to move the chains offensively is going to hurt its chances of winning.
Not to mention the fact that one of the worst offensive lines in the conference is going up against one of the best defensive lines. Advantage Missouri.
Simply put, this isn’t a good matchup for a Tennessee team searching for answers offensively. Yes there have been lots of injuries, but in year five of the Butch Jones era, your backup offensive linemen shouldn’t look this bad.
The Vols’ defense is going to be out on the field a lot. And that means the pass rush is going to take a hit as the game progresses. Tennessee’s only chance to win this game is to dominate the turnover margin and get a special teams score. If the Tigers can prolong a couple of long, methodical drives, it could get ugly for Butch Jones and the Vols.
Pick: Missouri 28-16
MVP: Drew Lock, QB
When your offense goes three-and-out as much as Tennessee’s does, it’s hard to stop a gunslinger quarterback at home. And that’s exactly what Drew Lock is.
UT’s inconsistent pass rush will not be able to touch Lock, who has one of the quickest releases in the SEC. But even if they do get pressure on him, he can still make all the throws. I expect Lock to throw for 300+ yards, especially if Missouri’s starting running back misses this game due to injury. Barry Odom is going to rely on him to carry his team to victory, and I don’t think Lock will have any trouble picking apart the Vols defense.
Missouri’s offense is not only one of the best in the SEC, but it’s also one of the best in the entire country. Statistically speaking, Missouri’s offense is the best in the conference and 15th in the country in terms of total yards per game.
Conversely, Tennessee’s offense has been horrendous since it scored 42 points in back-to-back weeks to start the season against Georgia Tech and Indiana State.
The Vols’ 125th ranked offense – five spots away from dead last – will struggle to keep up with the high-powered Tigers offense. Tennessee’s running back room has been the lone bright spot on the offense this season, but with holes along the offensive line and a banged-up Jarrett Guarantano, Missouri will load the box and hone in on stopping John Kelly.
Tennessee’s inability to stay on the field while on offense will also negatively impact the defense. Bob Shoop’s unit will be able to keep the game in reach for three quarters, but they will wear down in the fourth quarter as Missouri pulls away for the win.
Pick: Missouri 38-17
MVP: Missouri’s front seven
I mentioned it above, but Tennessee’s offensive line has a ton of holes in it right now. Whether it be because of transfer or injury, the Vols O-Line just isn’t good right now. Pair that with Guarantano who is banged up with an ankle injury, and you have a recipe for disaster. Terry Beckner Jr., Marcell Frazier, Cale Garrett and Terez Hall will be big problems for Tennessee on Saturday night.