If Tennessee football wants to make a bowl game after the 2021 regular season, Saturday’s matchup against the Missouri Tigers will be crucial. The Volunteers head in to the game with a 2-2 overall record, having just taken a loss to the Florida Gators. Through four contests, Tennessee has looked promising, although frustration exists with missed opportunities.
The same desire for a bowl game exists on the Missouri sideline. In fact, the Tigers have had an eerily similar schedule to this point in the season. Missouri is also 2-2 and has faced similar challenges. Their two wins are against a lower tier FBS team and an overwhelmed FCS team. One of their losses is an average FBS opponent, and the other is a fellow SEC East squad. Kind of creepy, isn’t it?
We mentioned before the season that this is a toss-up game. The rating systems we use for this article agree: Saturday’s game is expected to be a close one, and the winner has a inside track to making a bowl game.
With that being said, we take a look at what the numbers are saying, and why it’s so close on paper.
FEI (Fremeau Efficiency Index)
Overall: 69th (Last Week: 67th)
Offense: 65th (Last Week: 83rd)
Defense: 63rd (Last Week: 56th)
This is actually a good example of what the rating systems are doing. The final score of the Florida game was 38-14...seemingly, a blowout. But as any observer will tell you, the game itself was closer than that. It was only in the final quarter that Florida really pulled away and entered cruise control. The rating systems are able to see past the record and final score, and can better judge how a team played on the field. Hence why Tennessee’s offensive rating went up more after the Florida game (where they scored 14 points) than it did after the Bowling Green game (where they scored 38 points.)
The Volunteers had a pretty decent yards-per-play average, and they moved down the field on Florida’s defense more than the score would indicate. They had two drives end on Florida’s 30-yard line with no points. While that’s not good, it indicates a different issue than a stagnant offense.
FEI is a bit lower on Missouri than most of the ratings systems. SP+ has them right outside the top-50, and the FPI below has them right outside the top-60. Sagarin Rankings are around the same. But FEI places them squarely in the “below average” category. All the systems agree, however: The gap between their offense and their defense is huge. I’ll explain a bit more below.
FPI (Football Power Index)
Overall: 54th (Last Week: 55th)
Offensive Efficiency: 68th (Last Week: 91st)
Defensive Efficiency: 53rd (Last Week: 71st)
Special Teams Efficiency: 70th (Last Week: 29th)
That’s right folks—quality losses are back on the menu! FPI evidently liked Tennessee’s performance against Florida, who it has tabbed as a top-5 team in the country.
Offensive Efficiency: 12th
Defensive Efficiency: 114th
Special Teams Efficiency: 40th
Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz has a pretty good reputation when it comes to offense. So far, that has translated to Missouri. The Tigers aren’t particularly great at running the ball this year—but they do have a quarterback they trust in Connor Bazelak. They’re somewhat similar to Tennessee, in that most of their damage is done with short routes and quick throws. They are also disciplined, and simply don’t shoot themselves in the foot with egregious penalties. Must be nice.
FPI (along with other systems) does not like Missouri’s defense one bit. After watching some film—and looking at more numbers—it’s obvious why. The Tigers simply aren’t very good on this side of the ball. More specifically, they struggle tremendously with stopping the run. Missouri has played three FBS opponents, and the best they’ve been able to come up with was holding Central Michigan to 174 total yards on 4.5 yards-per-carry. Boston College and Kentucky (their two losses) both averaged more than 5.5 yards-per-carry, and they garnered over 600 yards between them.
More Interesting Stats
Tennessee’s defense remains top-10 in tackles-for-loss. But it might be a harder task against the Tigers, who are top-30 in avoiding tackles-for-loss.
On that note, Tennessee’s havoc rate from defensive backs is one of the better rates nationally.
The Volunteers currently boast the fastest offense in the nation. Almost three plays per minute.
Missouri is atrocious in allowing big plays. The Tigers rank outside the top-100 for plays of 10+ yards and 20+ yards.
Tennessee’s defense is susceptible to giving up chunk pass plays. They rank 98th in passes of 10+ yards allowed. Missouri’s offense is 15th nationally in pass plays of 10+ yards. There’s a real possibility that Missouri tries to put the game in the hands of their QB, Connor Bazelak.
FEI: Missouri, 54.2% — Projected Score (30.9-29.0, Missouri)
FPI: Missouri, 52.8%
SP+: Tennessee, 52% — Projected Score (29-28, Tennessee)