The Tennessee Volunteers have been on a roll as of late. After an abysmal start to the 2019 season, the 5-5 Volunteers have their eyes set on the first postseason appearance since 2016. They have won four of their last five, most recently overcoming Kentucky in dramatic comeback fashion for their first road win of the season. The Vols now look to come out of the bye week strong and cement a bowl berth as they take on the Missouri Tigers at Faurot Field. Here, we will provide our football preview and analysis of the upcoming matchup between the Tennessee Vols and Missouri Tigers.
Tennessee Missouri Football Preview
When Tennessee is on Offense
Tennessee’s offense has experienced quite the identity crisis thus far this year. The team’s biggest strength is likely the talented and experienced receiving group. However, their biggest liability has been inconsistent quarterback play. The Vols rushing attack has similarly been erratic. They will need to continue to develop chemistry and consistency to place pressure on a struggling Mizzou offense to keep pace.
The Tigers will face the disadvantage of preparing for any of Tennessee’s three quarterbacks this weekend. All three quarterbacks have shown they have the skills to run the offense if needed. I’m not sure if Coach Barry Odom‘s prediction of seeing all three receive playing time is accurate, but it wouldn’t be the first time. After his stellar performance in Lexington, expect redshirt junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano to get the start. Guarantano was expected to take a huge step in development under touted coordinator Jim Chaney. However, he has appeared to regress thus far, particularly in decision making. Still, he has the talent to hit every throw on the field, and he has shown tremendous improvement since being benched against Georgia.
Regardless of who is throwing the passes, the Vols have a plethora of options on the receiving end. None may be more impactful than senior Jauan Jennings. Despite the struggles at quarterback, the playmakers on this offense still give them a chance to put up big numbers any given night.
Missouri’s pass defense has quietly become one of the best in the country. Currently, they are averaging allowing only 165.9 yards per game, good for sixth in the entire country and first in the SEC. The biggest problem for the Vols may come in pass protection. Last week against Florida, the Missouri defensive line was able to sack the quarterback five times. They created a lot of confusion and frustration for a talented Gators squad.
— Mizzou Football (@MizzouFootball) November 16, 2019
Tennessee’s offensive line has been a much-improved surprise for the season. They also have talent in the backfield, with Ty Chandler starting and Eric Gray and Tim Jordan providing solid numbers in relief. That makes it all the more confusing why the Vols seem inconsistent in rushing production. They ran the ball well against BYU (242 yards), Mississippi State (190), and South Carolina (134). However, Tennessee also registered duds against Georgia (70) and Kentucky (83). If Tennessee can play up to their potential, this may be the best strength on strength match up of the night. Tennessee had the bye week to get offensive linemen, Darnell Wright and Wayna Morris, healthy. With the starting five back in, Tennessee will look to control the ball with methodical drives and open up the play-action and RPO game.
When Tennessee is on Defense
Tennessee’s defense has shown tremendous improvement over the course of this season. The defensive front is beginning to take on the mentality of their hard-nosed coach. The line has developed from a liability into a true asset as of late. Darel Middleton and Greg Emerson have emerged as playmakers. They have shown they can both fill gaps and play in a system as well as pursue and create explosive plays of their own. Similarly, the secondary has emerged as arguably one of the best in the SEC. Coach Jeremy Pruitt is finally seeing his vision come to fruition on defense.
Meanwhile, Missouri’s offense has been woeful as of late. They are averaging less than a touchdown per game over their last three games, and have not scored double digits since their 21-14 loss to Vanderbilt. They failed to score at all in the second half for the second straight game, and have more questions than answers at this point.
Mizzou Passing Struggles
Missouri has seriously struggled to generate any semblance of a passing attack in recent weeks. This has significantly hamstrung the Tigers’ offense. Over the recent four-game skid, they are averaging a paltry 164 yards per game through the air. In fairness, they did just get quarterback Kelly Bryant back from injury. Against Florida, the Tigers registered their highest yardage total of that span at 204 yards. In addition, Mizzou’s Albert Okwuegbunam is undeniably one of the best tight ends in the nation. He represents a matchup problem any time he steps on the field. Still, the Tigers’ passing attack has a lot to prove going into Saturday’s game.
At the same time, Tennessee’s secondary has developed into the signature ball-hawking backfield we have come to know of Pruitt defenses. Nigel Warrior has developed into one of the better safeties in the conference. He currently leads the SEC in interceptions with four. Not far behind him is talented sophomore corner Bryce Thompson. He has three interceptions on the year despite missing the start of the season due to suspension. Tennessee will look to exploit a vulnerable Missouri offense which has lost a lot of its confidence.
As previously discussed, the Vols front seven has developed into quite a pleasant surprise this season. After a shaky start to the year, the defense began to find their own against Alabama. From there they continued to develop, and they are now one of the more stingy units in the conference as well. The disruption along the trenches is a large reason for the sudden improvement in Tennessee’s defensive statistics. Players are getting more comfortable with Pruitt’s 3-4 scheme. This has allowed Pruitt and defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley to incorporate more exotic fronts and blitz packages.
Mizzou has not fared much better in the rushing game as of late. Over their last four games, they have averaged just 95 yards on the ground. They do have a very talented back in Larry Rountree III, who has gashed the Vols in previous meetings. The return of Bryant will also add another dimension to Mizzou’s rushing attack. The Vols defense must be disciplined against the talented dual-threat quarterback. With the recent struggles in the passing game, don’t be surprised if Pruitt decides to load the box similar to the gameplan for Kentucky.
Tennessee has dropped the last two contests against the Tigers. They are 1-2 all-time at Faurot Field and 2-5 overall. Missouri has gotten the best of the Vols since joining the SEC and will look to continue that trend. Tennessee has also yet to beat the Tigers since their former coach Derek Dooley joined the staff as offensive coordinator in 2017. Earlier in the season, the Vols were able to end the curse of Will Muschamp. Now they will look to get another monkey off their back.
Expect this game to be a low scoring, classic SEC game on a cold night in Columbia. Both defenses come in much more proven than the offenses. The difference in the game could likely be a big turnover or a key kick. If it comes down to a field goal, Brent Cimaglia has shown the moxie to finish games. Tennessee wins in a close game reminiscent of a cold night in Lexington. Vols 20, Tigers 16.