Opponent Preview: Missouri Tigers

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    (Photo via Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

    Record: 6-4 overall, 2-4 SEC
    Head Coach: Barry Odom, 3rd year (17-18 overall)
    Location: Columbia, Missouri

    Leading Passer: Drew Lock (Sr.) — 215-of-344, 2,647 yards 21 TDs, 8 INTs
    Leading Rusher: Larry Rountree III (So.) — 143 carries, 758 yards, 9 TDs
    Leading Receiver: Johnathan Johnson (RS Jr.) — 41 receptions, 483 yards, 3 TDs
    Leading Tackler: Cale Garrett (Jr.) — 86 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack

    There’s plenty to like about what Missouri has done this season, but there’s also plenty to point to as potentially major flaws in the Tigers’ game as well.

    On offense, there isn’t a lot that Missouri doesn’t do well. Offensive coordinator Derek Dooley has helped make the Tigers’ offense a fairly balanced attack that can pick up a lot of yards in a hurry. The Tigers have an explosive offense that ranks third in the SEC in plays of 30 or more yards with 28 such plays on the season. Only Ole Miss (48) and Alabama (33) have more among conference schools. The Tigers are also third in the SEC in passing yards per game, fourth in points scored per game, and sixth in average rushing yards a game.

    But how much of that has to do with a weak non-conference schedule?

    The Tigers are averaging nearly 180 fewer yards per game through the air in conference games than they are non-conference games, nearly 40 less rushing yards a game in SEC play, and an astounding 22.5 fewer points per game against SEC opponents.

    But just like the Vols, Missouri has played a difficult schedule to this point in the season. They’ve taken on four different ranked opponents, and they’ve won only one of those contests, handling Florida with ease in The Swamp, 38-17. They lost 39-10 to Alabama, 43-29 to Georgia, and 15-14 to Kentucky.

    Missouri scored 40 or more points in all four of their non-conference games, but they’ve failed to get over 38 points in a single SEC game. That’s still a pretty good offense, but it’s apparent some of the Tigers’ numbers are skewed because of their non-conference schedule.

    The one area the Tigers are exceptional at on offense regardless of opponent is on third down. Missouri is third in the SEC in third down conversion rate, picking up a first down on 45.6 percent of their third down attempts this season.

    The Tigers are led by senior quarterback Drew Lock, and he has a bevy of talented pass catchers to throw to. Missouri will be without their do-it-all tight end, Albert Okwuegbunam, but Lock still has plenty of players he can sling the ball around to. Emanuel Hall is the deep threat, averaging 21.2 yards a catch. Johnathan Johnson is the second-most targeted receiver on the team behind Okwuegbunam, hauling in 41 receptions for 483 yards and three touchdowns. Jalen Knox has been a surprising addition as a true freshman, catching 26 passes for 413 yards and three scores.

    Missouri isn’t just an air raid offense, though. They have a two-headed attack on the ground in the form of Damarea Crockett and Larry Rountree III. Crockett has rushed for 699 yards and seven scores on 144 carries while Rountree has picked up 758 yards and nine touchdowns on 143 attempts. Even Drew Lock can run a bit. He’s added 117 yards and four scores on the ground on 41 carries this season.

    As good as Missouri’s offense is, their defense has been just about as bad, however.

    The Tigers are 13th in the SEC in pass defense, 11th in the conference in scoring defense, and 11th in total defense. Missouri is actually tied for fifth in the conference in run defense, allowing just 134.1 yards a game on the ground. But they’re coming off their worst game of the season in that department, as Vanderbilt torched the Tigers for 216 rushing yards and a touchdown on just 29 carries.

    Missouri has only picked off five passes all season. That’s tied for the second-fewest in the SEC, and only six Power Five teams have intercepted fewer passes on the year than the Tigers.

    Mizzou’s defense has also been prone to giving up big chunks of yards. They’re 13th in the SEC in plays of 20 or more yards allowed, giving up 54 such plays this season to opponents. Their defense has been pretty good on third down, ranking sixth in the SEC in opponent third down conversion rate. But the only team that’s been worse in the red zone on defense in the conference this year is Tennessee. Saturday will pit the two worst red zone defenses in the conference together. The Vols have allowed a score on 90.9 percent of opponents’ possessions in the red zone, and Missouri has given up a score 89.2 percent of the time a team has made it into the red zone.

    The difference there, however, is that the Tigers have often limited their opponents to field goals rather than touchdowns in the red zone. Missouri has given up 20 touchdowns compared to 13 field goals to opponents while Tennessee has allowed 21 touchdowns and nine field goals in the red zone.

    Missouri’s offense can score a lot of points, but their defense has a knack for giving up a decent amount of points too. Vol fans might want to buckle in and expect a shootout on Saturday.



    Nathanael Rutherford
    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.