Tennessee is four days away from kicking off one of the biggest games of the season as the Vols travel to Colombia to face Missouri.
The Vols are three-point underdogs against a 2-2 Missouri team that has wins over Central Michigan and Southeast Missouri State and losses to Kentucky and Boston College.
It’s been a disappointing start to head coach Eli Drinkwitz’ second season at Missouri, and the Tigers have been porous on the defensive side of the ball.
Missouri is giving up 32 points per game despite the fact that they’ve played an FCS opponent. The Tigers rank 13th in the SEC in points allowed per game, only ahead of Vanderbilt.
Tennessee’s offense— which has been inconsistent the first month of the season— is licking its chops at a chance to face the Tigers.
“I don’t even want to get into it,” running back Tiyon Evans said about what he’s learned about Missouri so far. “I feel like we finna have some fun, most definitely. That’s all I’m gonna say. We’re going to have fun. We finna open up this offense and show what we can do.”
There’s plenty of reasons for Evans to be excited about facing Missouri. The junior college transfer has proven himself as a playmaker through four games despite battling injury. Missouri’s run defense has been horrendous this season, allowing a SEC worst 270 yards on the ground per game.
That’s 98 yards more per game than Texas A&M— the SEC’s 12th rated run defense— has given up this season. Pro Football Focus has graded out Missouri’s run defense this season with a 52.4.
Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel was far more modest in his comments about Missouri’s defense when he met with the media Monday, but even the first year coach noted that there will be opportunities for big plays.
“There have been some explosives in the run and the pass game against them,” Heupel said. “I think they have gotten better as time has gone on the first four weeks. Understanding their scheme, fitting things better, they are a group that has continued to improve.”
In fairness, Tennessee’s offense is dealing with its own issues. Quarterback Hendon Hooker is questionable for Saturday’s game after getting knocked out of the game against Florida. Hooker’s ability to make plays with his legs surely would have created a matchup nightmare for Missouri’s run defense.
Even if Hooker plays, his ability to run the ball could be limited.
Then there’s Tennessee offensive line which has struggled this season while being banged up with injuries. That could continue with Cooper Mays’ and Kingston Harris’ availability up in the air.
Still, Missouri’s defense is worse than Pitt and Florida and should present Tennessee’s offense plenty of opportunities to make plays.
The Vols need to take advantage too because Missouri’s offense can put up points on the scoreboard and turn things into a shootout at Faurot Field Saturday.