Man, how good does it feel to have the Vols playing meaningful football in November again?
While it may not be the winning ways of the past, I’ll take it. The last two seasons have been more about holding on for dear life than making strides. It’s refreshing to actually be looking forward to matchups and not wondering about what can go wrong.
This team is still young, but they are improving. That’s all that was expected from this season - improve in November - and it’s happening right before our eyes.
Can Jeremy Pruitt pull off a third SEC victory on Saturday? Let’s dive into this week’s keys to victory.
1) Jeremy Pruitt vs. Derek Dooley
Well, hello there old friend. It’s such a pleasure to see you again.
Actually, no I take that back. It’s not.
Life is truly a big, fat circle isn’t it? Who ever thought that the Doolster would make his way back to Knoxville in any other capacity than teaching the new recruits how to bathe?
All jokes aside, it will be very interesting to see how Pruitt attacks Dooley’s offense. Missouri is one of the most balanced teams in the country. Drew Lock is obviously the key cog, but they have two very talented running backs as well.
It’s hard to fathom Pruitt losing to Dooley, but it could very well happen. Tennessee just isn’t quite there yet to defend an offense like this, but maybe they’ll come out and surprise everyone like they did last weekend.
Regardless, if the Vols want to win, they will have to find a way to stop this offense and it all starts right here.
2) Test the Tigers’ defensive backs
Tennessee’s receivers are better than Missouri’s defensive backs. This should be a matchup for the Vols to exploit in a big way.
The trio of Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway, and Jordan Palmer is one of the more underrated trios of receivers in the SEC. All three can stretch the field vertically and can still run the proper routes to make plays underneath the defense.
Missouri’s secondary, on the other hand, is not good. They rank 15th in terms of pass yards allowed and 30th in terms of passing touchdowns allowed. The Tigers also rank 97th in total sacks with just 17 on the season.
We’ve all seen what this Tennessee offense can do when they come out and throw the ball. Why should that stop now? We’ve even seen what they can do when the deep ball is taken away - see South Carolina - and the Vols led for the entire game until the defense lost it in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers’ run defense is good. Like, tops in the nation good, which gives Tennessee all the more reason to let it fly this weekend.
So, there are just three more words left to say: CHUCK THE ROCK!!
3) Limit Larry Rountree III and Damarea Crockett
If you’re a Vols fan, you remember Rountree very well.
He ran for 185 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries while the Tigers gashed the Vols for 433 yards on the ground in Columbia last season.
But it’s not just about Rountree. Junior Damarea Crockett has been lights out this year as well. Both players have an almost even split in carries for the season and both of them have produced well when called upon.
Crockett has just a bit more versatility in the pass game, averaging 7.8 yards per reception compared to just 3.1 from Rountree, but both are seldomly used, with Crockett nabbing 11 balls on the year.
Missouri likes to run the ball, too. They have more attempts on the season than Alabama and actually have more handoffs on the season than they do throws.
As I said earlier, Lock is the key to the offense, but if the Vols can’t stop the Tigers’ ground game, then there is no doubt this offense will roll over the Tennessee defense.
4) Find Dominick-Wood Anderson
Missouri’s defense may key in on UT’s receiver and try and take the deep ball away ala South Carolina.
If this happens, Jarrett Guarantano needs to find DWA in the middle of the field.
Wood-Anderson has made some plays this year, but he has not made as big of a contribution as originally thought. Tennessee started to look his way more last week against Kentucky and that should carry over into this weekend.
An matchup nightmare, DWA is the last person linebackers want to see running open in the middle of the field. He provides an athletic safety blanket that few others on this roster can.
Look for the Vols to attack the middle of the field early in hopes of opening things up downfield.
5) Field goals, not touchdowns
There is no question that Missouri will move the ball up and down the field. The biggest key to the game will be what happens once they get inside the red zone.
It’s pretty simple. If the Vols can hold the Tigers out of the end zone, then they will this game. It also helps that Missouri’s kicker Tucker McCann, is just 18/26 on the season.