Prediction Panel: Tennessee vs. Missouri

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    Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

    The RTI team makes their picks for the Vols’ match-up with the Missouri Tigers this upcoming Saturday. Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford, staff writer Ben McKee, and contributor Charley Collier all share their predictions for this Saturday’s contest.

    Nathanael’s Pick

    When it comes to trying to predict a team and nail down what they are, I don’t think there’s a team in the SEC that’s tougher to get a feel on than Missouri. At times this year, the Tigers have looked like a team that belongs in the top half of the SEC. But then there have been times where Missouri has also looked like a mistake-prone team that belongs in the bottom half of the league.

    If you know anything about me, you know I’m a big numbers guy. There are a lot of numbers that favor Tennessee in this match-up, but there are also a lot that don’t favor the Vols.

    Some numbers that are in the Vols’ favor deal with Missouri’s star quarterback, Drew Lock. The senior quarterback has thrown eight interceptions on the year, and seven of those have come against SEC opponents.

    His home/road splits also favor Tennessee. At home this year, Lock has completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 1,676 yards, 14 touchdowns, and just three interceptions. On the road, however, Lock has completed only 58.4 percent of his attempts for 971 yards, seven touchdowns, and five picks.

    Unfortunately for the Vols, Missouri’s offense isn’t just built on Lock’s arm.

    The Tigers have a potent ground game led by their two-headed rushing attack of Larry Rountree III and Damarea Crockett. Those two have combined to run for 1,457 yards and 16 touchdowns on 287 carries.

    Not only that, but Lock himself can actually run a bit. He’s carried the ball 41 times this year and has picked up 117 yards and scored four times.

    Missouri’s offensive line is really good both at blocking for the run and protecting Lock in the pocket. They’re second in the SEC in sacks allowed and third in tackles for loss allowed.

    But for as good as that Missouri offense is, their defense is just about as bad.

    The Tigers have one of the worst pass defenses in all of college football. They’re allowing over 276 yards a game through the air, and they’ve given up 20 passing touchdowns and have only picked off five passes all season.

    The Vols will need to air it out, but they still need to establish the run game. Missouri has almost no pass rush, and the strength of their defense is in the interior. The Vols need to throw it a lot and try to run the ball towards the edges to pick up yards and points in this one.

    I think this game could turn into somewhat of a shootout, and I just don’t think Tennessee’s offense is equipped to win like that. We’ve seen what happens to UT this season when they face dangerous offenses like this; they lose. West Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama all put up a lot of points and yards against the Vols, and I know those games were earlier in the season, but this game still doesn’t match up as well for UT as the Auburn and Kentucky games did.

    I don’t have a great feel for this game, so take my pick with a grain of salt. But I think Tennessee will struggle to keep up in this one.

    Pick: Missouri, 38-30

    MVP: Damarea Crockett, Missouri RB

    Two years ago, Crockett had a field day against Tennessee’s defense, running for a career-high 225 yards on just 24 attempts. I don’t think he’ll have that kind of performance again, but I do think he’ll end up with at least 100 yards and could get a couple scores too.

    Ben’s Pick

    For the second straight week, I’m picking against Tennessee. That should be considered a positive for Vol fans, though, as I feel the same way about this game as I did for the Kentucky game. And I was completely wrong about last week’s contest.

    Can Tennessee beat Missouri and secure its trip to a bowl game? Absolutely. Missouri has been up and down all season. At times they’ve looked unstoppable and other times, the Tigers look like they don’t belong in the SEC.

    This prediction is more about Tennessee’s issues rather than thinking Missouri is a great football team. I’m well aware the Vols’ offensive line played well against Kentucky. They flat out dominated at times, but they’re going to have to perform like that for more than one game in order for me to buy into them. After all, the same 0-line couldn’t hold their weight against Charlotte less than two weeks ago.

    The main reason I believe Missouri will win this game is because of the match-up between Drew Lock and Tennessee’s secondary. It favors Missouri, and it’s not even close. The Vols may have held Terry Wilson to under 200 passing yards, but he had plenty of receivers running free in the secondary. It’s critical Tennessee gets pressure on Lock, or the future first round draft pick is going to have a field day.

    Tennessee will have chances to win this game, especially if the defense plays as physical as it did last weekend. On offense, Jarrett Guarantano and the offense have to have success in the passing game, particularly on throws down the field. If it can do that, Tennessee has a great chance to win this football game. I’m just not buying into the offensive line allowing Guarantano to go to work. Not yet at least.

    Pick: Missouri, 31-27

    MVP: Drew Lock, Missouri QB

    Lock is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and Tennessee’s secondary has struggled to contain elite quarterbacks this season. Will Grier, Jarrett Stidham, and Tua Tagovailoa all threw for over 300 yards when facing the Vols this season.

    Charley’s Pick 

    For two weeks in a row, I just have this feeling I need to pick the Vols. Tennessee has all the momentum in the world right now, and they’ll be looking keep that rolling into the Missouri game Saturday. The Tigers present a tougher match-up to gameplan for than Kentucky, but they are very beatable.  The Vols need this one to reach bowl eligibility, as the last thing they want is to have it come down to beating Vandy in Nashville.

    For the Tiger offense, replacing last year’s offensive coordinator Josh Heupel with Derick Dooley is like replacing a Ferrari with a Honda Civic. The offense has still looked good at times, but they haven’t been nearly as good as they should be with the weapons they have. In Saturday’s game, they will be without receiver Nate Brown and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, the leading pass catcher for Mizzou. This makes things a whole lot easier for the Vols secondary, as the biggest threat the Tigers have left is Emmanuel Hall. Hall is a one trick pony. He can’t do anything but go deep, and a few times a game, it ends up working. He can’t run any other route, and he drops balls almost as often as he catches them. If Pruitt chooses to, Alonte Taylor could match up perfectly with him, and he could effectively take him out of the game.

    If the Vols can stop the run, they can have a really big day on defense.

    Offensively, the line needs to find whatever they used to motivate themselves against Kentucky and do it again. Last week, they just decided that they were going to work their butts off and get the job done, and it worked wonders for the offense. When Tennessee can run the ball, they’re actually pretty hard to stop. They had one of the best performances a team has had against the Kentucky defense all year. If they can run the ball on Saturday, they should be able to put up at least 30.

    Tyson Helton called a great game last weekend, keeping the defense guessing on first down for the first time all year. Another good game from him is a must, and if the Vols’ offensive line comes back to earth, a short passing game could really supplement a struggling run game if it gets to that point. I do think that the Vols should be able to throw the ball at will.

    Get ready to go bowling. Senior Day is going to be a good day for Tennessee. They’re going to keep the momentum rolling from the Kentucky game and beat Missouri by multiple possessions. The injuries the Tigers currently have are going to have a huge effect on them. Another dominating performance will be big for recruiting as well, with several big time names in town, and the Vols are catching fire late in the season.

    Pick: Tennessee, 38-24

    MVP: Ty Chandler, Tennessee RB

    Chandler has really just been great all year, despite plenty of struggles from the guys in front of him. He is a great runner, but he has also been very valuable as a pass catcher out of the backfield. Saturday, I see him with at least 100 total yards and a pair of touchdowns. Missouri has allowed a few big plays to running backs this year, and has had a tendency to lose backs in coverage from time to time.