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Better Know an Opponent: Missouri

Hey wait I thought this was supposed to be an easier week than the last month WHO CHANGED THE SCRIPT--

Efficiency metrics are just a tool of the man, dawg.
Efficiency metrics are just a tool of the man, dawg.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Expectations change; when the season started, most Tennessee fans figured this game was going to be a toss-up at least. Now, somehow, Missouri's 7-1 (they got there by winning seven games and only losing one) and while this Tennessee team is doing better than most would expect, this game is an uphill climb.

  • On aggregate, Missouri's broadly what they sound like; a strong offense (5th in the SEC at 6.75 yards per play) and a ...wait, what? yeah, strong defense (4th in the SEC, 5.17 yards per play). Don't be fooled by the aggregate totals - Missouri's D has been on the field for 612 snaps - 76.5 plays per game. That's roughly as many snaps as Texas A&M gets off per game by way of comparison.
  • Assuming James Franklin isn't able to go, Maty Mauk will get the start, and my god, Maty Mauk has turned in some fantastic lines in the two games he started: 18/36 for 295 yards against Florida and 10/25(!) for 249 yards(!!) against South Carolina. When in doubt, air it out. (He'll run, but that's largely by accident.)
  • Seriously, that's 24.9 yards per completion and nearly 10 yards per attempt. There's a sticker for guys like this.
  • I want to be Maty Mauk when I grow up.
  • The running game is a full-blown three-headed monster. Henry Josey (5.9 yards per carry, 12.3 car/game, 8 TD), Russell Hansbrough (6.8 yards per carry, 8.5 car/game, 3 TD), and Marcus Murphy (7.7 yards per carry, 6.6 car/game, 7 TD) are all dangerous and have all played in each game Missouri's played. (Hansbrough's slightly nicked up, but should play.) In total, that's 27.4 carries per game at 179 yards per game - which, it should be noted, is better than Tennessee's rushing total against actual opponents in pretty much every game save Georgia.
  • In general, rushing tandems like this scare me more than a single major rusher, because - as we've learned from the walking minefield that is Neyland Stadium - single points of failure apparently break against Tennessee this year. This is more like a hydra.
  • While there isn't a tight end in the passing game to speak of, we've got some nice correlation-causation going on with Mauk's numbers above and the yards per reception of L'Damian Washington (19.2, with 8 TDs). He's the deep threat, and Dorial Green-Beckham (14.8 yards per reception, 4 TD) is the highly-touted guy who's also really, really good. Marcus Lucas (2 first names, 11.5 yards per reception, 1 TD) is the chain-mover du jour.
  • As good as Missouri's offense has been, their defense has arguably been better. Their weakness - such as it is - come in passing down situations (aka the thing Tennessee was deathly afraid of under Worley and may or may not be any better with Josh Dobbs since Tyler Bray has exhausted his eligibility).
  • Related: passing down performance is the worst defensive metric Missouri has by S&P+, at 37th. (Other numbers: 16th in Standard Downs, and -1.31 net points per drive, which - I think - means that they do a great job stymieing opponents.)
  • With that being said, it looks like while they're good at getting behind the line, that's been a function of opponents (Murray State, Arkansas State, and - somehow? - Florida were beaten up to the tune of 10+ tackles for loss) somewhat, and I'd still give the edge to Tennessee's line..
  • Michael Sam, however, is an absolute beast - 16 TFL, 10 sacks, 7 of which have come in SEC play. Stop Sam from getting behind the line and there isn't a ton there - of course, they can do damage on the other side of the line, and they're good at that - see the 16th in Standard Downs defense.
  • Missouri's picked off at least one pass in every game. EJ Gaines and Kentrell Brothers (3 INT apiece) are the big pickers, and man that sentence construct is clunky but there are only so many colloquialisms for interceptions.
  • Somewhat related: Missouri's 33 pass breakups to 15 INT looks a bit understated, but it does point to an active secondary. I'd guess there's a bit of boom/bust here, but don't know for sure.
  • Missouri's special teams, however, leave something to be desired (91st by FEI). Andrew Baggett is decent (although he missed at least on FG I can recall immediately) and good at generating touchbacks, but the return game is largely LOL DON'T BOTHER. For some reason, Marcus Murphy isn't super effective in this role and L'Damian Washington isn't involved with the return game, which is fine for my intents and purposes.

I'm not saying it's impossible, just that it's going to be hard.