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Tennessee Vols vs Missouri Tigers: statsy game preview

Not afraid of the offense. Terrified of the defense. Expect a steady diet of fingernails in this one.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks ago, we thought we had a pretty good bead on the identity of the 2015 Tennessee Volunteers football team. An offense that could rush mostly when it wanted to and was improving through the air. A defense that was improving all around. Special teams that made a real difference.

The last two weeks, though, with games against a struggling South Carolina team and a North Texas cupcake that even Little Debbie thinks is a tad too sweet, have made us question some of what we thought we knew. Has our roster worn down over the season or somehow become more vulnerable over time, or have we just managed to sneak in a breather or two before sprinting the final lap?

We're about to find out. Here are what I think will be keys against Missouri Saturday night:

Make the most of our defensive advantage. According to the stats accumulated so far this season, Missouri's Rushing Offense is the worst we've seen all year. So is their Scoring Offense. And their passing offense is only slightly better than what North Texas boasts. Basically, the Tigers have limited ability to gain yards on the ground or through the air or to put points on the scoreboard. The Vols need to make the most of that and limit Missouri to as few yards and points as absolutely possible. Expect something between one touchdown and two. Anything more than that, and we're in real trouble. Why? Because Missouri is as good on defense as they are bad on offense.

Make the most of any and all offensive opportunities. Missouri's defense has been throttling opponents all season, allowing only 113.7 rushing yards and 184 passing yards per game. It's essentially like playing Florida's defense all over again. The good news is that Tennessee's offensive coaching staff has been pretty good at scripting about 14 points per game, even if they do tend to fall into a dark and unholy crevice after that. So hope for a couple of quick scoring drives early because if they don't come, it could be a very long day. Apart from getting to double digits early, the Vols will need to minimize negative plays, giving away downs with penalties, getting behind the chains, and turning the ball over. Every offensive snap counts against these guys. They'll shut down enough of them themselves; we can't afford to help them.

Be who we are and do what we do. I believe this is the third time I've made that a key to a game this season, but . . . it's key. This figures to be a low-scoring affair, so the whole risk management philosophy may be exactly the right thing to do and may decide the game. So might a special teams touchdown or even a short field from a special teams return. Solid punting and coverage could be key to keeping Missouri out of field goal range. Turnovers might not matter so much when your offense can score at will and just go make up for it on the next drive, but if you and your opponent are expecting only limited opportunities, where you tee off matters. A lot. So be the team that makes the fewest mistakes, and if you absolutely have to make a mistake, make it on the right side of the field.

My prediction? Tennessee 17, Missouri 14. I feel like 14 is the floor for Tennessee and that the ceiling is much more flexible, and I am hoping that 14 is Missouri's ceiling. We'll see.

Here's the comparison chart. Tennessee currently resides at 11th on the list of toughest schedules. Missouri is 43rd. If you're interested in advanced stats, you can find them here (Tennessee's |Missouri's). They're giving Tennessee a 73% chance of winning. But I'm wary.

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 29 210.3 15 113.7 AR/GA FL/AL AR/GA FL/AL 170
20/37 122.4/139.6 10/2 105.1/77.1 133/207 254/132
Tennessee passing offense vs. Missouri passing defense 81 210.7 17 184 OK/AL FL/GA OK/AL FL/GA 190
24/40 186.4/201 10/4 174.9/162.7 125/171 165/312
Tennessee rushing defense vs. Missouri rushing offense 51 154.9 117 120.9 None FL/KY None FL/KY 110
None None 102/95 138.6/144.5 None 109/165
Tennessee passing defense vs. Missouri passing offense 69 226.2 109 176.8 NTX GA/SC NTX GA/SC 200
112 172.8 104/102 183.8/190.2 107 279/233
Tennessee scoring offense vs. Missouri scoring defense 36 34 5 14.7 AL/GA FL AL/GA FL 17
7/14 15.3/17.9 4 14.5 14/38 27

Tennessee scoring defense vs. Missouri scoring offense

32 21.8 126 15.2 None NTX/SC None NTX/SC 14
None None 123/112 15.8/20.9 None 0/24