Who has the edge? Mizzou vs. Tennessee
With only two games remaining in the 2016 regular season, Mizzou and Tennessee are on very different trajectories.
The Tigers, at 3-7, are just riding out the season before they can start preparing for 2017. The Volunteers are fighting for their lives in the SEC East.
If the Volunteers won’t be scoreboard watching Saturday afternoon, their fans certainly will.
Tennessee and Missouri kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, two hours after Florida takes the field at LSU.
If Florida (5-2 in SEC play) beats LSU, Tennessee (3-3 in SEC play) will be eliminated from SEC East contention regardless of how it fares against Missouri.
However, if LSU wins, the Vols will win the East if they beat Mizzou and Vanderbilt.
So, even though Saturday’s matchup against Mizzou looks like it should be a fairly easy win for the Volunteers, if Florida wins, that could alter the Vols’ second half strategy and, perhaps, motivation.
With that, let’s take a look at how the two teams match up ahead of Saturday’s showdown.
WHEN MIZZOU HAS THE BALL
Drew Lock vs. Vols’ pass defense: Though sophomore QB Drew Lock has struggled against tough defenses, Tennessee’s secondary doesn’t grab many interceptions, so the Tigers might be able to find success.
Lock hasn’t had the best performances against top SEC defenses, throwing three interceptions against Georgia, one against LSU, two against Florida and two against South Carolina.
With senior DB Cam Sutton back in action, the Volunteers should be able to keep Mizzou receivers from creating space off the line of scrimmage.
Combine that with the fact that the Vols have DE Derek Barnett (SEC-leading 10 sacks) rushing off the edge and Lock and the Mizzou passing game could be in a world of trouble.
Damarea Crockett vs. Vols’ run defense: Tennessee is allowing 216.8 rushing yards per game (the only East defense that has been worse? Missouri’s).
Injuries have played a large part in that, and the Vols are certainly healthier than they were a couple of weeks ago, but Mizzou RB Damarea Crockett should still find plenty of room to run.
The Tigers freshman is ninth in rushing yards in the SEC (837) and has eclipsed the 100-yard mark four times, including a 154-yard performance against a tough Vanderbilt defense last week.
If Crockett can gain 150-plus yards and find the end zone a couple of times against a battered Vols defense, the Tigers might be able to hang around.
Mizzou receivers vs. the Tennessee pass defense: The Tennessee pass defense has been outstanding this year, even if not overly opportunistic.
They have just eight interceptions in 10 games.
The Vols rank 31st in the nation, allowing just 200.6 yards per game.
Part of that is Barnett’s ability to shrink the quarterback’s time. With senior leader Cam Sutton back, Tigers receivers could have trouble finding openings.
DB Todd Kelly is questionable, but if he plays, J’Mon Moore and Dimetrios Mason will have even more trouble creating separation, something they’ve already struggled to do against strong SEC defenses.
WHEN TENNESSEE HAS THE BALL
Joshua Dobbs vs. Tigers’ pass defense: In seven of Tennessee’s 10 games, QB Joshua Dobbs has completed a pass of 35 yards or longer. Against a Mizzou defense that gives up nearly 240 yards through the air on average, the Vols will likely have a few more.
However, the Tigers have DE Charles Harris, who has come on strong of late. Harris has recorded 4.5 sacks the past two games and has 8.0 this season.
The Tigers also lead the SEC with 13 interceptions, and Dobbs is prone to throwing picks, having tossed 12 already in 2016.
This is all a long way of saying that both sides have the ability to make plays. Whoever makes more will have a great chance to win.
Alvin Kamara and John Kelly vs. Tigers’ run defense: Tennessee demolished Kentucky on the ground last week. Dobbs ran for 147 yards and two touchdowns, RB Alvin Kamara added 128 yards and two scores and RB John Kelly chipped in 94 yards.
That’s bad news for the Tigers, who are even worse than the Wildcats at stopping the run. Mizzou gives up 225.3 yards per game (109th nationally) and a whopping 5.12 yards per rush.
If the passing game isn’t working for Tennessee, it might be able to abandon it completely and just run its way to victory.
Unless something drastic changes for the Mizzou defense, the Vols might have three 100-yard rushers Saturday.
Tennessee receivers vs. the Mizzou pass defense: Mizzou has a terrific set of senior cornerbacks in Aarion Penton and John Gibson. However, the Tigers still give up more than their fair share of big plays.
That’s bad news with Josh Malone lining up across from them. Though Jauan Jennings made the huge Hail Mary grab to beat Georgia, Malone is the Vols’ leading receiver.
Through 10 games, Malone has only 35 catches but they have gone for 648 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s averaging 18.5 yards per catch and is exactly the big-play threat that will cause Mizzou problems.
Mizzou’s best hope is that Penton and Gibson pick off a pair of passes.
Simply by having a kicker who went 7-for-7 in extra points last week, Tennessee has the advantage when it comes to special teams.
Mizzou K Tucker McCann missed both field goal attempts and two of his three extra points last week against Vanderbilt.
Fellow freshman Ben Tesson came in and made his only extra-point attempt after McCann’s repeated struggles, so it’s likely he’ll get the first chance against Tennessee.
However, he’s a complete unknown, and if the Tigers leave even one point on the board against the Vols, it could spell disaster.