Missouri is a tough team to figure out. On one hand, you’ve got the team that blew Florida away just two weeks ago. On the other, you’ve got the team that just barely escaped Vanderbilt. As Pruitt said earlier in the week, they could easily be 8-2. When you look at those close calls against Purdue and Vanderbilt though, they could also easily be 4-6.
Derek Dooley’s offensive unit ranks third in the SEC in terms of yards, behind the arm of Drew Lock. They rank third in the league in passing while checking in a sixth in rushing, which creates a balanced attack.
“I mean, really with the exception of Alabama and Kentucky, these guys, I think they scored 29 on Georgia,” Pruitt said of Missouri. “They’ve scored 29 or more points on everybody they’ve played except two of the best teams in the league, and Georgia is one of the best teams in the league. Defensively so is Florida. So they’ve scored points. Not a whole lot of folks have slowed them down. They can run the football, they can throw it. Dynamic quarterback, have playmakers on the outside, a lot of experience up front, big men. Really good tight ends, good runners. So we’ve got a tremendous challenge.”
Larry Roundtree and Damarea Crockett form a pretty stout duo in the Missouri backfield, each with 700 yards rushing so far this season. Adding that to the equation along with Drew Lock makes the Tigers a tough offense to defend. It’s going to be a bit of a difference from last weekend for Tennessee, where the Vols were able to simply attack the line of scrimmage to stop Benny Snell and the Kentucky rushing attack.
“When you’ve got a quarterback back there that can move in the pocket, that can extend plays and he can throw it all over the field, it puts a lot of stress on you defensively,” Pruitt said of Lock. “So they’re very balanced offensively. I don’t think they’ve give many sacks this year. So they’ve kept the pocket clean for the quarterback. They’ve done a really nice job.”
One thing Lock has struggled with this year is playing against SEC opponents. The senior quarterback has put together most of his numbers against Tennessee-Martin, Memphis, Wyoming and Purdue. If you take those numbers out of the equation, like The Athletic’s David Ubben did below, his numbers are much less impressive.
On paper, Missouri’s defense doesn’t exactly stand out. They rank 74th in total defense, giving up nearly six yards per play. What they can do, however, is stand tall against the run. The Tigers rank 30th in the country in that regard and should make things tough on an inconsistent Tennessee offensive line.
“Defensively, they stop the run,” Pruitt said. “Good linebackers, playmakers in the backend. Really exotic stuff on third down.”
To Pruitt’s point, Missouri is allowing a conversion on third down just 34 percent of the time, good for 31st in the FBS. Early down success is a key for Tennessee on Saturday, which has been a bit of a struggle throughout the year.
Where can Tennessee beat Missouri? Look no further than the Tigers’ 118th ranked passing defense. Missouri is surrendering a whopping 7.8 yards per attempt this season, giving up 13.5 yards per completion. Part of that is a struggling pass rush, which has only gotten home 17 times so far this season.
It’s hard to have a good feel one way or another in this one, at least for me. Tennessee should have all the motivation in the world, coming off of another big win and with bowl eligibility on the line. Maybe that, along with some overall momentum, is enough to pull off another upset.