Tennessee’s Week 2 Opponent Preview: Missouri Tigers

    by -

    (Photo courtesy of Missouri Athletics)

    2019 Record: 0-1 overall (0-1, SEC)

    Head Coach: Eli Drinkwitz, 1st year, 0-1 overall (0-1, SEC)
    Location: Columbia, Missouri

    Leading Returning Passer: Shawn Robinson (R-Jr.) — 19-of-25, 185 yards, TD, 0 INT
    Leading Returning Rusher: Larry Rountree (Sr.) — 14 carries, 67 yards, 4.8 YPC
    Leading Returning Receiver: Jalen Knox (Jr.) — 5 receptions, 63 yards
    Leading Returning Tackler: Devin Nicholson (So.) — 10 tackles (6 solo), 0.5 TFL

    Total 2020 Offense Rank: 60th (322.0)
    Passing Offense Rank:
    34th (253.0)
    Rushing Offense Rank: 70th (69.0)
    Scoring Offense Rank: 56th (19.0)

    Total 2020 Defense Rank: 41st (414.0)
    Passing Defense Rank: 60th (303.0)
    Rushing Defense Rank: 21st (111.0)
    Scoring Defense Rank: 61st (38.0)

    Here’s a complete preview of Tennessee’s opponent this Saturday, the Missouri Tigers.

    Offense

    Tennessee will see two quarterbacks when it faces Missouri on Saturday. Redshirt junior Shawn Robinson will receive the bulk of the snaps, if not all, however. Robinson went 19-of-25 against Alabama last weekend, which was the best performance of any quarterback making their Tiger debut since 2000.

    Robinson sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules after playing two seasons at TCU. In 2018, he started seven games, completing 60.8% of his passes for 1,334 yards and nine touchdowns. Against No. 3 Ohio State that year, he completed 24-of-40 passes for 308 yards and a touchdown.

    Redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak is the other Mizzou quarterback that will likely receive playing time for a series or two. Bazelak went 7-of-14 for 68 yards vs. Alabama and scored a fourth quarter rushing touchdown. He completed 15-of-21 passes for 144 yards last season before tearing his ACL against Arkansas in the final game of the season.

    Robinson’s best friends within the offense is Missouri’s dynamic running back duo of Larry Rountree and Tyler Badie. Rountree, who was on the Preseason All-SEC Third Team as well as the Preseason Doak Walker Award watch list, averaged over 4.0 yards per carry last weekend against Alabama. Badie only rushed for 19 yards on four carries, but the versatile junior caught one pass for a 54-yard touchdown in the second half.

    Missouri’s wide receiver room has potential, but struggled in the opener against the Crimson Tide, specifically on the outside. Mizzou’s slot receivers found success as Jalen Knox, Dominic Gicinto and Barrett Bannister combined for half of the wide receiver room’s production.

    On the outside, Drinkwitz upgraded the talent over the offseason. He brought in Virginia Tech graduate transfer Damon Hazelton and also added Keke Chism as a graduate transfer from Angelo State. Hazleton caught five passes in his Missouri debut, but only for a total of 34 yards. Chism was not a factor as he only caught two passes for 12 yards.

    Missouri’s tight ends didn’t contribute much in the passing game either. Daniel Parker Jr. is charged with the task of replacing the production lost from Albert Okwuegbunam, who is now playing tight end for the Denver Broncos. Parker played in every game last season, finishing the year with 140 yards, and though he’s not as much of a pass-catching threat as the departed Okwuegbunam, he’s more capable as a blocker.

    The Tigers’ offensive line wasn’t much of a strength against Alabama Week 1 though it did improve as the game progressed. The unit struggled mightily in 2019. Mizzou finished 97th nationally in rushing yards per attempt, and they were 81st in sacks allowed per game.

    Missouri added Rutgers graduate transfer Michael Maietti after center Trystan Colon-Castillo declared early for the NFL Draft. The right side of Missouri’s offensive line featuring redshirt junior Case Cook at right guard and redshirt junior Larry Borom at right tackle is considered the stronger side of the line. The left side is much more of a concern. Junior college signee Zeke Powell started against Alabama at left tackle, while Xavier Delgado made his first career start at left guard.

    Defense

    Junior Nick Bolton leads Missouri’s 4-2-5 defense from his middle linebacker position. Bolton returns following a tremendous 2019 season in which he earned an SEC-best linebacker season-grade of 91.1 from Pro Football Focus. In 2019, he led the league in regular season tackles with 107 to go along with 9.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, two interceptions, eight passes defended and three quarterback hits.

    Sophomore Devin Nicholson pairs with Bolton at linebacker. Against Alabama last week, he made a career-high and game-high 10 tackles. Nicholson played in seven games as a true freshman a season ago, starting the final five. Junior Cameron Wilkins also factors in with Nicholson and Bolton at linebacker. Wilkins played in 10 games a season ago and made two starts. He made three tackles against Alabama.

    The biggest concern with Missouri’s defense is its defensive line. Missouri was once a hotbed for defensive ends, but the Tigers haven’t had a star edge rusher since Charles Harris, who left for the NFL after 2016.

    Defensive end was a weak spot for the Tigers in 2019. This season, defensive coordinator Ryan Walters needs Chris Turner and Tre Williams to take a step forward at d-end while Kobie Whiteside and Akial Byers anchor the inside of the line.

    Turner has started 26 consecutive games and Williams had a strip-sack against Alabama. The x-factor for Missouri’s pass rush is Trajan Jeffcoat. The redshirt sophomore played in 13 games as a true freshman in 2018, but wasn’t apart of the team in 2019. In his first game back with the team, Jeffcoat had a career-high three tackles and a sack.

    Between Whiteside, Byers and Markell Utsey, Tennessee has three seniors at defensive tackle. All three have played quite a bit of football for the Tigers during their careers. Whiteside had a team-high 6.5 sacks last season.

    The safety position is the strongest position on Missouri’s defense outside of Bolton at linebacker. Mizzou plays three safeties in its base 4-2-5 defense. Seniors Joshuah Bledsoe and Tyree Gillespie are the two starting deep safeties, while sophomore Martez Manuel plays the boundary safety.

    Bledsoe finished 2019 ranked third on the team with 49 tackles and 4.0 tackles for loss. He added 10 pass deflections to become the first Mizzou safety in more than a decade to post 10+ pass breakups in a single-season and become just the eighth Mizzou defender to have 10 pass breakups in a single-season since 2009. Gillespie played in 12 games and started in 11 at both safety spots, finishing the season with 50 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, seven pass deflections, one quarterback hit and one forced fumble.

    Missouri will be a little thin at corner with Jarvis Ware questionable to play. Ware, one of Mizzou’s starting corners, suffered a knee injury against Alabama and is considered day-to-day. True freshman Ennis Rakestraw stepped in for Ware against the Crimson Tide and was able to hold his own given the circumstances.

    Senior Adam Sparks and redshirt freshman Ish Burdine are Missouri’s other options at corner. Sparks played in 11 games in 2019, posting 17 tackles with 2.5 TFL, one pass deflection and one forced fumble. Burdine had to miss most of true freshman season following an injury in fall camp, but returned to the lineup against Arkansas in the last game of the season.

    Special Teams

    True freshman Harrison Mevis is Missouri’s starting kicker. The five-star kicking prospect made both of his field goal attempts in his debut against Alabama. Mevis connected from 27, and 37-yards out.

    Kentucky graduate transfer Grant McKinniss handles Missouri’s punting duties. McKinniss handled kickoffs for the Wildcats last season. He averaged 39.0 yards per punt against Alabama and his longest traveled 44-yards.

    Mevis isn’t the only true freshman on Missouri’s special teams unit. Freshman wide receiver Kris Abrams-Draine handles punt returns. Against Alabama, he had one return in which he lost a yard on the play. Receiver Brett Bannister returned two punts for a total of three yards.

    Tyler Badie returns kicks for Missouri. He returned two kickoffs for an average of 19.0 yards against the Crimson Tide.

    Ben McKee is a graduate from the University of Tennessee and has a degree in Journalism and Electronic Media. He covers Tennessee football, basketball, baseball, and the Lady Vols for RTI, and he's also the host of the RTI Podcast. You can also hear Ben on the morning sports radio show "The Swain Event." He's the producer and co-host along with former Vol wide receiver Jayson Swain.