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

Mizzou's offense has been efficient in 2023, averaging 4.5 points on 56 scoring opportunities. I don't have a real statistical basis for this, but that 4.5 number feels significant to me when looking at PPO because you're as close to 6 as you are to 3, meaning you're ending a lot of drives with touchdowns. The red zone numbers bear that out, as the Tigers lead the nation in red zone efficiency, scoring on 37 of 38 red zone trips (97.4%) with 25 of those 38 chances ending in touchdowns. Remember that a scoring opportunity extends farther than the red zone (out to the 40), so one key might be keeping Mizzou outside the 20 and force them to kick long field goals. And even at that, the Tigers are likely to score, as K Harrison Mevis is Missouri's all-time leading scorer and has made 12 kicks of 50+ yards in his career. 

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: 

That's an uncharacteristically poor attempt at a tackle by UGA at the end there (and maybe just a splash of holding there on the outside, but if Mizzou got away with that against Georgia, you know they'll get away with it against the Vols). But it's also a gritty run by Schrader. 58% of Mizzou's rush yards, and nearly a quarter of their total offense, came on outside zone plays against the Dawgs. Those plays had a 63% success rate, too. Considering the level of athlete and the speed UGA has at every position on defense, being able to run around the edge with that level of success is damn impressive. 

Like most SEC teams, the Tigers' favorite pass concept is flood. Here's an example that doesn't seem like much at first...

but this is what makes flood hard to defend: it's a three-level read, so even if the deep and intermediate routes are covered, there's someone in the flat to pick up a quick 8 yards. That's why it's the most-used passing concept in the league, with 7% off all pass plays being a flood variation (more than doubling the next-most used concept, screen passes at a little over 3%). As I've said before, the key to shutting this play down come from pressure. It's real unlikely for the DBs to successfully cover a flooded zone, so the front 7 have got to make the QB make a bad throw, or simply put him on the ground first. 

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. 




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