The RTI team makes their picks for the Vols’ match-up with the Missouri Tigers this upcoming Saturday. Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee share their predictions for the Vols’ final road game of the season.
To me, this game is likely to go one of two ways. Either it’s an ugly rock fight like we saw back in 2015 when the Vols managed to pull out a 19-8 victory, or one of these two teams is going to be fueled by their anger and disdain of their opponent and end up blowing the game open with a couple big plays.
If that happens, my money is on the Vols.
Typically this season, I’ve been more reserved in my predictions and have more often than not gone with the conventional wisdom prior to kick-off. I thought the South Carolina game would be close (it wasn’t), I thought Alabama would blow out the Vols (they technically did, but not as bad as most thought), and I thought the Florida game would be a bit closer than it was (oops). But I’ve also been pretty accurate with my score predictions for the Georgia, Mississippi State, UAB, and Kentucky games.
The consensus for Saturday’s game against Missouri seems to be that both teams will struggle to put up points. While I think that’s the most likely outcome, I’m going to go a little more outlandish for my pick for once.
Tennessee should be mad. They’ve been blown out two-straight years by Missouri, and last year it was pretty obvious the Tigers were doing what they could to run up the score. Barry Odom doesn’t like Jeremy Pruitt. Missouri’s players don’t like Tennessee’s players.
And the Vols sure don’t like the Tigers.
With an extra week to rest, prepare, and get healthy, I’m looking for Tennessee to come out and jump on Missouri. I don’t think you’ll see a bunch of fireworks and the Vols get into the upper 30s or 40s, but I think the areas that Missouri’s defense is weaker in (though they’re still stronger overall than most defenses UT has faced this season) benefit UT. Missouri’s strength is the interior of their defense, and the best part of the Vols’ offensive line is the interior. Florida picked on some of Mizzou’s secondary players last week, and Tennessee’s strength on offense is their wideouts.
Given the fact that Missouri’s offense has been downright wretched (they’ve scored one touchdown over their last 12 quarters of play), I think Tennessee’s defense can contain the Tigers. Missouri’s defense is very solid, but they’re starting to wear down because of the offense’s inability to sustain drives and score points.
Saturday’s game may be ugly early, but I think it could end up turning into the South Carolina game for Tennessee. Missouri’s special teams are bad, and the Vols’ offense should be able to do enough to keep the Tigers at bay.
I’m feeling a little “out there” with my pick this week.
Pick: 33-13, Tennessee
MVP: Marquez Callaway, WR
I think Jauan Jennings will get blanketed a lot on Saturday, but I also think Marquez Callaway matches up well with Missouri’s defense. If he gets matched up with the Tigers’ weaker of their two corners, watch out. He could be in for a few big-time receptions, and I think he or Josh Palmer could be the big play threat in this one.
Missouri’s offense is in “football hell” at the moment. Those are the words of Derek Dooley, Missouri’s offensive coordinator and Tennessee’s one-time head coach. The former Vol coach’s offense hasn’t scored a touchdown in 30 straight possessions, a receiver hasn’t caught a touchdown in an SEC game this season, and the Tigers are averaging 6.8 points over the last four games.
While the Missouri offense is abysmal, Barry Odom’s defense is outstanding. Mizzou’s defense ranks first in the SEC in passing yards allowed (165.9), second in total defense (297.6), and fifth in both points allowed (19.5) and rushing yards allowed (131.7).
As for the third phase of the game, Missouri’s special teams isn’t great either. The Tigers rank 10th in kickoff coverage (39.5), 12th in kickoff returns (17.9), eighth in punt return average (10.9), 12th in field goals (65 percent), seventh in punting (39.9), and 13th in extra points (three misses).
I’m confident that Tennessee’s defense will win its battle against Kelly Bryant and the Missouri offense. I’m also confident that the Vols will win the special teams battle, but I’m not all that confident Jim Chaney’s bunch will win the match-up against the Tigers’ defense.
This is where the game will be won or lost for the Vols — specifically the match-up of Tennessee’s interior offensive line against the interior of Missouri’s defense. Jordan Elliott, Kobie Whiteside, and Nick Bolton are as good as they come, but if there’s one area of the Vols’ O-line that can handle the trio, it’s the interior.
Ultimately, I believe Tennessee’s offense gets the best of Missouri’s defense, or at least just enough. I trust Trey Smith and Brandon Kennedy to slow down Elliott, Whiteside, and Bolton just enough to allow Jarrett Guarantano to get the ball to Jauan Jennings, Josh Palmer, and Marquez Callaway.
Pick: 24-13, Tennessee
MVP: Trey Smith, Tennessee OL
Smith has a rather large assignment on Saturday night when he squares off with Elliott and Whiteside. Both Missouri defensive tackles are two of the most productive defenders in the SEC and could single-handedly win the game for the Tigers. Smith, in addition to Kennedy, won’t allow that to happen. Smith is playing great football at the moment, and I believe that will continue as the Vols become bowl eligible with a win over Missouri.