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Tennessee-Missouri Preview: Six questions with Rock M Nation

Previewing this weekend’s matchup.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve got a big one this weekend in Columbia. Tennessee will hit the road once again, set to visit the Missouri Tigers for a chance to keep their SEC East hopes alive. Ahead of the game, we visited with our friends over at Rock M Nation to preview the matchup.

Thanks to Sammy Stava for his help! On with the questions.

1.) Missouri finished 6-7 in each of the last two seasons, even though one could see some progress with the team with several close losses last year, especially when they played UGA closer than anybody else. But what’s changed?

Obviously signing five-star WR and the No. 2 overall receiver in the country Luther Burden in 2022 didn’t hurt, but what else has led to Eli Drinkwitz slapping down the UNO reverse card this season?

The close losses last season were a reason to believe that Mizzou could get over that .500 hump heading into this season, but not a lot of people were expecting this team to be 7-2 with their only losses to LSU and Georgia up to this point. It’s been a wildly successful season so far, and that’s due to the fact with the talent upgrade and experience on this team — as they’ve brought in a good number of returning starters on offense and defense in 2023. Mizzou navigated through a pretty manageable schedule to get to 5-0, so that helps too. This team’s mentality and chemistry is different as their slogan this season is “Something to Prove” — and they’ve proved some doubters wrong. Also, Drinkwitz’s OC hire of Kirby Moore has made a huge impact on the offensive success.

2.) Outside of Burden, who should Vol fans be keeping an eye on? RB Cody Schrader either leads or is inside the top 1-3 in just about every counting stat for the SEC, but who else should the Tennessee defense key in on?

Oklahoma WR transfer Theo Wease has been a big addition to this team’s success. The former five-star recruit didn’t shine like he hoped at OU, but this coaching staff is utilizing ways for him to be successful. He’s had 5 TD receptions so far and had 90 yards last time out vs Georgia’s defense. Overall, Wease just provides good depth to this already strong wide-receiver room.

3.) How were Missouri fans feeling about Eli Drinkwitz prior to this season, and how much has that changed with the way the Tigers have played so far this year? What was the overall tenor of the fanbase when Drinkwitz got the two-year extension that included a $2-million dollar raise last November?

I don’t think Drinkwitz was coming into this season on the hot seat by any means, but this Year 4 was a pivotal one that he needed to produce as the fanbase was getting a little impatient with just being mediocre. After this 7-2 start to the season, the fanbase has bought in as the Tennessee game on Saturday will be Mizzou’s fourth straight sell-out. The contract extension last season wasn’t popular from the fanbase at the time, but I think it made some sense just to give Drinkwitz a vote of confidence and just for recruiting purposes.

4.) Missouri’s defense is allowing 362-ish yards per-game, per Team Rankings, which puts it at 48th in the country and seventh in the SEC. What are the defense’s best areas, where does it need improvement and who specifically should Vols fans watch for in terms of making a big play?

Missouri’s run defense has been a strength for this team, specifically senior defensive lineman Darius Robinson who has had a big season and is getting some NFL Draft buzz. Mizzou’s pass defense has been giving up some big plays as opposing QBs have been able to put up big numbers through the air. Having said that — the secondary has come up with some timely plays with key interceptions. The Mizzou defense’s biggest issue is not getting off the field on 3rd downs so expect Tennessee to pick up some big third down conversions in this one. Another key player to watch on Mizzou’s defense is Kris Abrams-Draine who has developed into not only one of the best CBs in the SEC — but in the country.

5.) How angry were fans when Tennessee had the game in-hand late last year and the offense was still trying to score?

Obviously, there’s history with Heupel and Missouri, but in games that end up a blowout, it’s important that backup players get live-game reps, right? Especially in a situation like last season when the Vols knew Joe Milton was going to be the QB the following year with Hendon Hooker’s eligibility ending. Is there some bad blood there?

Oh, you bet Mizzou fans weren’t exactly happy with Tennessee running up the score last season in a blowout victory. More importantly, Mizzou’s coaches and players weren’t happy either — and I think they will remember that for this year. If Mizzou has a chance to run up the score — they will. There’s been some bad blood between Drinkwitz and Heupel which has turned this into rivalry of some sorts.

6.) I’m not huge on predictions — especially with the officiating in the SEC always being just terrible... so many mitigating circumstances — but what’s your read on the game Saturday? You think the Tigers get the better of the Vols this weekend?

(I didn’t make the officiating comment based on Tennessee’s penalty issues — those problems rest squarely with the Vols’ coaches and players — but I think everybody knows the refs are a problem that need to be addressed, or maybe I’m wrong?)

Any thoughts on that, just from an overall standpoint?

This will be a close game as Missouri and Tennessee are two evenly matched teams — so I’m going to give the Tigers a slight edge at home. 31-30 Mizzou. (And yes, I agree that SEC officiating has been a huge problem recently and the referees need to be held accountable for some horrific calls.)