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3 keys to the Tennessee Vols vs. Missouri Tigers: Shrugs and gnats and ostriches

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With so many unknown variables at play in the Vols-Tigers game, it could all come down to mistakes. Or not.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Predicting this Saturday's game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Missouri Tigers is something like trying to hit a gnat with a rubber band while riding an ostrich on a moonless night. We think we know the power and explosiveness of Tennessee's offense under Josh Dobbs, but we haven't seen them do it against a really strong defense that knew exactly who Dobbs is and what he can do. Further, the offense will be operating without its starting center, and the defense will operate without one of its starting safeties for a half and without its starting middle linebacker and senior leader for the entire game. Throw on top of that that making sense of Missouri's 2014 resume is like making sense of an M.C. Escher, and you have shrugs all around. Shrugs and gnats and ostriches.

So here are our best guesses as to three keys to a Vols victory Saturday night at Neyland.

Get ahead early. If it's true that Missouri's offensive identity is found on the ground and that they're not especially good or consistent in the passing game, it will be important to get a lead early on these guys. It doesn't matter how it happens -- run game, pass game, turnover, special teams, whatever -- the Vols need to get an early lead and put Missouri in the position of having to pass rather than eating yards and clock on the ground.

Zero out the rushing game. And if it's true that the Tigers' rushing game is something to be feared, especially in a game where the integrity of our defense is on the line, then Tennessee needs to at least minimize the damage both on defense and by negating any advantage by putting up our own yards on the ground. Dobbs and Jalen Hurd together have shown that they can run with the best of them, but as we've been saying all week, they haven't seen a defense that's both good and ready for them. So don't expect 300 rushing yards, but do hope for something close to the same amount that Missouri gets.

Maximize the passing game. If there's an advantage, it appears to be in the passing game where Tennessee's struggle against a good passing defense is nothing compared to the challenge facing Missouri when they try to pass against Tennessee's passing defense. It appears that Missouri will have trouble getting yards through the air, so the Vols need to maximize the difference between passing yards for both teams.

Turnovers and special teams. Games like this might as well be called Maxim 1 games. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. Or it should. So don't turn the ball over, take it away from them, play field position, and hit your field goals.

Whatever happens, this game is shaping up to be a nailbiter, and fingernails taste better at home with salt. So let's go Vols. Get this one done.

Tennessee Logo Missouri Logo Comps Result against Comps Guess
Closest Lower Closest Higher Closest Lower Closest Higher
Team Team Team Team
Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value
Tennessee rushing offense vs. Missouri rushing defense 94 139.7 29 131.6 Georgia Ole Miss/Alabama Georgia Ole Miss/Alabama 180
54 152.8 25/3 128.1/94.6 117 0/181
Tennessee passing offense vs. Missouri passing defense 52 241.8 35 209 Arkansas St. Kentucky Ark. St. Kentucky 275
42 212.6 31 200 247 297
Tennessee rushing defense vs. Missouri rushing offense 64 164.2 53 177.4 South Carolina Alabama South Carolina Alabama 180
54 176 35 197.9 248 183
Tennessee passing defense vs. Missouri passing offense 30 199.5 107 178.4 Florida Georgia Florida Georgia 130
114 165.9 99 189.5 76 147
Tennessee scoring offense vs. Missouri scoring defense 66 28.6 16 20.1 Georgia Utah St. Georgia Utah St. 24
22 21.6 13 19.4 32 38
Tennessee scoring defense vs. Missouri scoring offense 46 24.1 64 29.3 Kentucky Florida Kentucky Florida 20
71 28.2 63 29.3 16 10