Tennessee’s looking to rebound from its first loss of the season, a 27-13 affair that probably wasn’t as close as the scoreboard might indicate. The Vols’ offense never found any rhythm or groove and found itself behind the chains numerous times thanks to pre-snap penalties.
UT also got manhandled on both lines, but this story is about Missori, and this matchup is a chance for the Vols to rectify both aforementioned maladies.
It’s likely that Missouri tries to put a hitch in the Vols’ offensive giddy up early with blitzes and pressure. Tennessee was venerable on the interior of the offensive line and when UGA brought pressure from the nickel spot. We’ll see if UT’s OL can out-physical Missouri in a way that it wasn’t able to against the Bulldogs.
The Vols are at home, so hopefully the problem with the silly, soul-snatching penalties that put Tennessee in first-and-longs against Georgia will take care of itself.
Regardless, we enlisted the help of Sammy Stava (@StavaonSTL) of SB Nation’s Rock M Nation to give us some insight into Mizzou Head Coach Eli Drinkwitz’s recent contract extension, the much-improved Tiger defense and the lack of fire power displayed from their offense.
1.) We’ll start with the raise/ extension Head Coach Eli Drinkwitz got recently. It was something like $2 million more per-season, right? What’s the pulse of the Tigers’ fanbase on that move? Do you think Drinkwitz was maybe eyeing an exit?
“The contract extension made for Drinkwitz made some sense for a vote of confidence thing and recruiting purposes. I understood that. The raise kind of puzzles me, but I think the AD basically told him “I’ll give you a raise if you hire an offensive coordinator in the offseason.
I think there’s some mixed opinions within the fanbase about this move, but you know what? It’s not their call. If the athletic department really thinks Drinkwitz is the right guy for this program, then you must invest in him.
Drinkwitz has produced the best back-to-back recruiting classes (both Top 20 in the country) in Mizzou Football history and I think you still need to let that all play out. However, next year needs to be the breakthrough season in his Year 4 with a much more manageable schedule. And your last point, maybe Drinkwitz was trying to eye an exit out of Columbia – and I don’t think Mizzou wanted to start all over again with a new coach just yet.”
2.) Missouri’s got one of the better defense’s in the country, currently listed at 14th nationally according to NCAA dot com. What’s been the main driving force in that unit’s uptick in proficiency?
“Eli Drinkwit’s hire of defensive coordinator Blake Baker has been one of the best hires in the College Football off-season and Baker should be a finalist for the Broyles Award as the one of the top assistant coaches. The defensive line has been more aggressive on blitzes, and the coverage in the secondary has been top-notch. All around, I think this personnel fits with well with Baker’s scheme and gameplan.”
3.) On the other side of the ball, though, the offense has been, well, struggling. The Tigers have scored 17 points or fewer in five of their nine contests and haven’t put up more than 23 points in an SEC game. What’s the deal there? QB Brady Cook has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns (seven INTs to six TDs), but there’s gotta be more to it than just subpar QB play, right?
“I think Brady Cook is a fine quarterback. However, a fine quarterback will not be able to win you a lot of games in the SEC. Having said that, I think Cook’s numbers would translate a lot better with a pretty good offensive line to work with – and he hasn’t had that luxury either. If you have a good OL, maybe you can get by with a limited QB. If you have a good QB, maybe you can get by with a struggling OL. Missouri has neither, which makes it really hard to put together a productive offense. And it’s frustrating because Mizzou really does have playmakers at the wide-receiver position. Dominic Lovett, a 4-star out of high school is having a breakout season as a sophomore. Five-star freshman Luther Burden has all the talent in the world but has had his ups and downs. Mizzou needs an elite quarterback to consistently give those guys the ball. And that’s what’s been frustrating about this season, as even if they had an average offense – it would be looking like an 8-9 win season with the strong defense.”
4.) The Tigers are allowing third-down conversions at about a 31-percent clip, which ranks them 17th in the NCAA. To get off the field on third downs, it usually helps to have some defensive playmakers who step up in big moments. Who should Tennessee fans be keeping an eye out for on Mizzou’s defense?
“After tearing his ACL last season, junior cornerback Ennis Rakestraw is having a breakout season in the secondary with eight pass deflections and three forced fumbles. He was Eli Drinkwitz’s first big recruit in the 2020 Class, picking Mizzou over Alabama and Texas.
Drinkwitz’s biggest addition in the transfer portal this offseason was Florida linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper, who is among the team leaders with 48 tackles for Mizzou so far this season and is arguably Missouri’s best player – not just defensively. He will be hearing his name called in the early rounds of the NFL Draft come April.”
5.) I’m not real big on predictions, personally, but if you want to throw one out, feel free to. How do you think the fanbase feels going into this game? Do you think watching UGA throw the Vols around like chew toys has given the Missouri fans some tangible hope that the team can pull this one out?
“I don’t think the fanbase (including me) is hopeful for this game, especially since it’s on the road and Tennessee will come out with a chip on their shoulders following their first loss of the season. The near upset against Georgia maybe gives a little bit of optimism heading into this game, but not much. Every loss Missouri has had in SEC play has been by one-possession, but I think that will end on Saturday. Let’s say Vols around a 31-14 type of game.”