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Week 12 Tennessee X-Factor: Alontae Taylor

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Tennessee’s freshman corner should play a pivotal role against Missouri

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Auburn
Alontae Taylor has developed nicely throughout the course of the season
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll admit when I’m wrong.

When I first heard the news that Jeremy Pruitt was moving freshman recruit Alontae Taylor from wide receiver to cornerback, I was a bit skeptical.

Even though the Vols had plenty of options at receiver, they didn’t have a true speedster like Taylor who could stretch the field. Taylor would’ve provided that and at the time, my naïve self thought that he wouldn’t be able to make that much of an impact in his first year.

Fast forward 12 weeks later and I am wiping the egg off of my face.

Taylor has become arguably the best player in the Tennessee secondary. His blend of size, speed, agility, and work ethic have landed him in the upper echelon of corners - and not just freshman corners - in the country.

The Vols will need him in a big way this weekend as they face off against one of the better offenses in the country.

The key against Missouri - besides Drew Lock - is their balanced offense. They rank 44th in the nation in total rushing yards and 25th in passing yards. They sit at 26th when it comes to rushing attempts and 31st in pass attempts.

So, how do you defend a balanced attack such as this? For starters, pressure is always the best remedy, but what if you can’t get pressure regularly?

Sure, Tennessee is coming off of a five sack performance against Kentucky, but even after last week they still average just around two sacks per game.

It’s always been said that both the back end and the defensive front work hand-in-hand. That will need to happen if the Vols want to win this weekend.

In four losses - all to SEC opponents - Missouri quarterback Drew Lock has averaged 183 passing yards per game. Compare that to the 319 yards per game that he’s averaged in the other six contests and it’s easy to see that Lock is the main cog to the offense.

Lock was sacked 13 times in those four games, but ten of those game in two games. This bodes well for Tennessee considering that they have issues creating pressure up front.

Taylor should be able to hold up on the back end of the defense, allowing more time for the front seven to do their thing. He will also be matched up on Emanuel Hall, the team’s leading receiver.

Limiting the pass game may also force Missouri to run more. Even though the Vols were destroyed on the ground in last year’s contest, the team has to feel good about their performance last weekend.

Missouri has averaged 153 yards on the ground in their four losses that include two 200+ yard performances. So while they may still have success on the ground, they are better off throwing the ball.

If Alontae can come out and lock down his man, then it should have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the defense.

Expect him to come out and make a name for himself this weekend.