It's Football Time in Tennessee: Vols vs. Missouri Tigers Preview (11/11/23)
Recently: Tennessee (#13, 7-2, 3-2) scored 3 defensive touchdowns--a program first--in a rout of UConn on homecoming weekend. The Huskies are comparable to the Austin Peay team UT struggled to put away earlier this season, so it was encouraging to see the Vols' improvement over the last couple of months manifested in a complete takedown of an inferior opponent.
Missouri (#14, 7-2, 3-2) took UGA deep into the 4th quarter, but fell short in Athens, losing 21-30. This Mizzou team is legit. Imagine the kind of threat that pundits always want Kentucky to be, but make it real. That's Missouri in 2023.
Previously on Vols vs. Tigers: Last year UT scored 60+ points against the Tigers for the second year in a row (and for the third time in the series), beating Mizzou 66-24 on Senior Day in Knoxville. The Vols have won four in a row and hold a slim 6-5 advantage in the series that was first played when Missouri joined the SEC in 2012. Tennessee and Mizzou are not scheduled to play in 2024.
Five Factor Preview
Tennessee Offense vs. Mizzou Defense
You'll notice in both of these charts that many of the categories match strength-for-strength. Hopefully Tennessee takes this opportunity to improve their PPO, as that is a weakness the Tigers seem to have. Mizzou's defense is not particularly outstanding in any one area--Texas A&M, for example, has a more stout defense for sure. But the Vols got the Aggies in Neyland. Missouri statistically compares more closely to Florida, so here's another chance for the Vols to show growth. Can they go on the road and perform better against the Tigers than they did against the Gators a couple of months ago?
Personnel-wise, Mizzou DE Darius Robinson has a sack in 5 consecutive games and leads the team with 5.5 sacks on the year. CB Kris Abrams-Draine is a Thorpe Award semifinalist and is 2nd nationally with 15 passes defended, as well as having 4 INT. Butkus Award semifinalist LB Ty'Ron Hopper leads the team with 53 total tackles.
Tennessee Defense vs. Mizzou Offense
WR Luther Burden III is just 48 yards from eclipsing 1000 on the year. HC Eli Drinkwitz did cast some doubt on Burden's availability in this game in his press conference earlier in the week, but I call shenanigans on that one--until I don't see Burden on the field, I'll assume he's playing. QB Brady Cook threw for 212 yards against UGA last week, his 17th 200+ game as a Tiger, although he completed just under 50% of his passes against the Dawgs. RB Cody Schrader leads the SEC with 102 yards/game, but his 5.7 yards/carry lags behind both Jaylen Wright and Dylan Sampson.
Mizzou Offensive Concepts
It's zone run plays or nothing for the Tigers on the ground. There's a precipitous drop off from their favorite two flavors of zone to the third most-used concept, inside power. Here's their most-used version of outside power, off tackle:
Prediction: So just to address this real quick: we all know there's a scenario where Tennessee plays Georgia for the SEC East next weekend. For that to happen, UT has to win this game. We'll get to that in a second. But unfortunately, the other thing that has to happen isn't going to happen. Sorry, but Ole Miss is not going to beat UGA. Lane Kiffin lacks the ability. Can we all agree that beating #1 Georgia on the road would be Kiffin's best win of his career? Ok then, what's his next biggest win? Exactly. Lane has a grand total of two wins against top-10 teams in his career, in 2011 at USC against #10 UCLA, and last year against an overrated Kentucky team that was #7 at the time and finished the season unranked. Make no mistake, come Saturday night I will betray my own soul and root for Lane Kiffin to actually win a game of consequence for once in his life. But this is your reminder that Kiffin has Steve Spurrier's mouth and Derrick Mason's trophy case, and that's not going to change Saturday.
Now as for the Vols. Tennessee is a slim 1.5-point favorite on the road. Last time the Vols went on the road, they got a much-needed SEC road win, which is hard to get just about anywhere outside of Nashville, and escaped Lexington with a 6-point victory. Missouri is a good football team. I believe they are better than Kentucky. Still, there's nothing Mizzou does that I can point to statistically and say it scares me. Personnel-wise, I'm not sure there's a spot where I'd trade what they have for what Tennessee has (yes, Luther Burden is a great receiver, but I'll stick with Squirrel White and company). But then you look at the grit they played with in Athens last week and the Tigers look really dangerous. It's an SEC road game. Mizzou remembers the beatdowns UT has handed them the last two years. There are plenty of reasons to think Missouri gets a measure of revenge against the Vols this weekend.
Last week Tennessee played a UConn team that in many ways resembles the Austin Peay team they played and struggled against in September. There was no struggle this time. The Vols followed that APSU game with a disappointing trip to Gainesville. And here they are again with a SEC road trip looming. For the second week in a row, Tennessee finds itself in a situation that parallels the early season with a chance to show growth and earn a bit of redemption from those September struggles. And for the second week in a row, I believe they do. Tennessee wins, and since the line is basically a pick 'em, they cover too.