Tennessee is preparing for a critical SEC matchup this weekend as the Vols travel to Columbia to face Missouri. The Tigers are in the midst of their best season in years as Eliah Drinkwitz squad enters the matchup 7-2 (3-2 SEC).
Third-year coach Josh Heupel and defensive line coach Rodney Garner met with the media this week and discussed Missouri’s breakout season and the challenges the Tigers’ dynamic offense presents. Here’s what each coach said about the Tigers this week.
“Big game this week. Really good football team that we have an opportunity to play. You look at what they’re doing in all three phases of the game, they’re playing extremely well. Look at their results throughout the course of the season, continue to play smart physical football, both sides of the line, scrimmage in particular. And it will be a huge test for us. So looking forward to seeing Vol Nation show up. They’ve been awesome on the road this week, or this year. We certainly want to see a lot of orange when we get there in Columbia too. So appreciate everybody making that trip.”
On what he’s seen from Missouri quarterback Brady Cook
“He’s smart, he’s accurate with the football and he is athletic. Has the ability to affect the game with his feet. And we gotta do a great job in the pass game. We gotta affect him, not let him be comfortable in the pocket while doing that. You cannot let him escape the pocket. He’ll be dynamic and make big plays with his feet and his arm as he breaks contain. And then he’s obviously a part of their run game too.”
On Missouri receiver Luther Burden, the Tigers’ offensive balance
“Yeah, you gotta be really good in the run game because everything will play off of that too. They create a lot of big plays with chunk plays, design shots down the football field. He’s a really good player. And when he gets the ball in his hands, he’s difficult to bring down. They do a good job of moving him around too, where you gotta track where he is at … they try to find matchups for him. So we gotta do a great job against him. But he’s not the only wide receiver. They got a really good core group of wide receivers that are doing that.”
On Missouri having its best year under Eliah Drinkwitz
“At the end of the day, they’re a good football team. They play well in all three phases. They’re smart, tough and competitive. That’s why they’ve played the way they have throughout the course of the season. You can tell, tell that they’re prepared every single week. We know that we’re gonna get their best and, and it’s our job to make sure that we’re at our best too.”
On Missouri’s defense
“Fast, aggressive, tackle extremely well. Play a bunch of man on the outside, they’re gonna make you earn it. You look at them statistically, defensively, playing the run extremely well and are one of the top teams in the country in creating sacks. They got really good players up front. They do it with pressure, but the first, second and third levels are tied in together extremely well.”
On how he’s seen Missouri’s passing offense improve from last year
“Missouri, when you look at them it starts with the quarterback. He’s a really good football player. He has a really good command presence. He can lead, he can throw the ball and he’s elusive. He can run. He puts a lot of stress on you. Starting with him, but then you look at their receiving core, those are some special guys that he’s got out there to throw the ball to. You look at No. 3 (Luther Burden III), No. 1 (Theo Wease Jr.), No. 7 (Cody Schrader) and No. 5 (Mookie Cooper) – they’ve got a group of guys that are real good football players that he does a really good job of throwing the ball to. Obviously, their offense is very diverse and does a really good job there. No. 7, the running back, is a physical, tough guy that does a really good job of running behind his pads. He brings his own blocker. They’re doing a good job of playing team offense if you ask me.”
On the key to stopping runs from Missouri compared to Kentucky
“You come into the game, and Kentucky had one of the most prolific run games that we had faced up until that point. The running back was averaging almost six yards a carry. We really put a big emphasis on trying to create a new line of scrimmage, trying to play more vertical, trying to force them to make jump cuts prior to what they were. It’s the same thing with this guy. They’re very similar, but this guy may be just a tad more physical where the guy at Kentucky was faster. I think they both do a really good job of pressing the blocks and just finding the soft spot, just squaring up the shoulders (and) getting downhill. We’ve got to do a great job of playing vertical, creating knock backs, (and) be able to tear up blocks. We’ve got to keep our pads square. We’ve got to tackle. We can’t miss tackles. All the little things are what it comes down to playing in this conference. Just play a great, sound, fundamental game.”