Following its first loss of the season, Tennessee returns to Neyland Stadium for its Senior Day matchup against Missouri.
Missouri is 4-5 (2-4 SEC) in Eliah Drinkwitz’ third season as head coach. The Tigers boast an improved defense and a middling offense. Missouri has played five SEC games that were decided by a touchdown or less this season.
Tennessee and Missouri have split the first 10 games since the Tigers joined the SEC, 5-5, and bragging rights in the SEC east matchup is on the line Saturday.
Here’s three keys to a Tennessee victory.
Avoid Critical Mistakes
This one is pretty simple. Tennessee is a much better team than Missouri. Tennessee should not lose to Missouri. Missouri shouldn’t be overly competitive with the Vols.
The Tigers haven’t scored more than 23 points in a SEC game this season and if they’re going to pull off the upset inside Neyland Stadium they’ll have to buck that trend. It’s important that Tennessee doesn’t hand Missouri any short field or easy points on Saturday.
That starts with turnovers. Hendon Hooker threw his second interception of the season last week at Georgia but that’s not a major concern in this game or hardly any game. With rain in the forecast, Tennessee needs to avoid fumbles and sloppy play that could give Missouri short fields.
Jaylen Wright fumbled again last week in the rain at Georgia. That’s been a reoccurring problem for Tennessee’s most talented back and will be something to monitor. Jabari Small is expected to return from the injury that sidelined him for much of the Georgia game and the junior running back has strong ball security.
The other area to watch is special teams. If Tennessee can break even in the third facet of the game, they’re likely to make easy work of Missouri.
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Control Defensive Line Of Scrimmage
Missouri’s offensive line has been one of the biggest reasons its offense has struggled so badly this season. This is a game Tennessee’s defensive front should dominate and those games are the games Tim Banks’ group plays its best.
Look at Tennessee’s two best defensive games — LSU and Kentucky — two offenses with poor offensive lines. Tennessee’s run defense dominated in both those games forcing opponents into third-and-longs.
When Tennessee forces opponents into third-and-long out comes the pass rush packages. The Vols still struggle to consistently get pressure blitzing four but the back end of their defense has held up well enough when they’ve brought pressure this season.
Brady Cook is worse than both Jayden Daniels and Will Levis and shouldn’t be able to torch an aggressive Tennessee defense.
If the Vols control the line of scrimmage like they’re capable of, Missouri is unlikely to be able to score enough points to make the matchup competitive.
Regain Offensive Swagger, Success
Consider this final key as much about the rest of the season as it is about beating Missouri. Georgia made Tennessee’s offense — which had been the best in the nation — look pedestrian last week.
The Vols’ offense has hit big play after big play this season but their longest completion was just 27 yards against the Bulldogs. It was Tennessee’s only completion over 20 yards.
Tennessee needs to get its swagger back this week against Missouri. The Vols need to get back to what they’ve done so well all season. That’s using explosive plays to put up big numbers on the scoreboard. That might be an additional challenge if it ends up raining Saturday but it is plausible nonetheless.
Tennessee returning to its offensive form of most the season would all but guarantee a win over Missouri. It would also earn style points for the CFP committee to view and regain any confidence Tennessee lost a week ago in Athens.