Let's start our Tennessee preview series with some links.
From Tennessee's perspective, there are two major story lines heading into this game -- one good, one bad.
Bad: Two defenders, including a senior leader, are being investigated for sexual assault and likely won't play on Saturday.
Good: Quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who started as a true freshman last year against Missouri, was intended for redshirt this year but came off the bench when Justin Worley got hurt a few games ago (and backup Nathan Peterman couldn't get anything going). The result: a semi-competitive loss to Alabama and 95 combined points against South Carolina and Kentucky.
The University of Tennessee football team has suspended a star linebacker and a second player as suspects in an alleged off-campus rape of a 19-year-old woman and the alleged sexual assault of another 19-year-old woman in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Vols linebacker A.J. Johnson, a senior, and defensive back Michael Williams, a sophomore, were suspended from all team-related activities, according to a tweet posted by the football team's official Twitter account Monday.
No arrests have been made, and Knoxville police declined to identify the suspects or make public their written report on Monday, saying it was not yet finalized. A police source confirmed to The Tennessean that Johnson and Williams were suspects in the assaults, which occurred at an off-campus apartment complex.
Jones has gushed over the quarterback he had no intention to start this fall.
"He’s not even the same quarterback," Jones said, "just from an arm strength standpoint, from his functional intelligence in terms of knowledge of the offense, his body in terms of his growth and maturation.
"He has the potential to be as good as he wants to be."
Dobbs is a relative veteran compared to many of the players around him. Tennessee has played 23 true freshmen this season, more than any other Football Bowl Subdivision team. Only Tulane has started more true freshmen than Tennessee’s 10.
A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams, Tennessee's starting middle linebacker and cornerback, respectively, were suspended indefinitely Monday after allegations of sexual assault.
"Obviously it is very difficult," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "But it is the situation that we are in. That is about all I can comment right now, as it is going through the legal process." [...]
All of this coincides with Missouri perhaps being the most injury-free it has been all season. Aside from offensive lineman Anthony Gatti, whose season ended after he tore his ACL against Indiana, and running back Morgan Steward, who Missouri coach Gary Pinkel confirmed Monday would not play this season because of a hip injury, the Tigers expect to bring a healthy roster to Knoxville, Tennessee.
From October of 1959 to October of 1961, the Tigers won 12 out of 14 [conference] games. That included a loss to Kansas, which the Jayhawks would later forfeit for using an ineligible player. Without counting that as a victory, the winning percentage is .857. Counting it as a win would bump the percentage to .929, equalling the 1940-43 teams for the best stretch in school history. Twice more in the sixties, the Tigers would have stretches of at least 15 games in which they won at least 78.9% of their games. [...]
Missouri is 12-2 in regular season play in the SEC (including 7-0 on the road) over the last two seasons. The loss to Auburn in the SEC Championship Game (a game six of the previous seven teams on that list would not have had to play) puts the mark at 12-3. That's a winning percentage of .800, which makes the last 15 conference games the fifth-most successful such stretch Mizzou has had in the last 90 seasons.
The Tigers have two games left in the regular season. If they win both, 2013-14 would mark the most successful conference run in Missouri history in 53 years. In the SEC, the biggest, baddest conference of them all. You know, the one where Missouri wasn't supposed to be able to compete.
Now let's hear what all Tennessee Coach Butch Jones had to say. [...]
On Missouri's nine-game road win streak: "There are a number of things, a number of dynamics that probably add into that. First of all, their program knows how to win. We talk about developing your players, I think if there's one program that really exemplifies developing your players, it's Missouri. They've done a great job. I think they've reaped the benefits of the coaching staff being in place for a number of years. They know what they want in recruiting and they develop their players. When you're able to have the luxury of redshirting individuals and adding depth, that adds up over time. They're a very, very good football team. They're very sound on what they do. They're very disciplined. They take care of the football. They have a swagger about themselves. The biggest thing is their players expect to win every time they go play a game, whether it's on the road or at home."
Butch Jones on Missouri: "All juniors and seniors on the defensive side of the ball. Can't put a value on experience."— Volquest Staff (@Volquest_Rivals) November 17, 2014
Butch Jones on Mack Crowder: Has a high-ankle sprain and "little bit with his knee, knee sprain." Questionable for Mizzou game.— Volquest Staff (@Volquest_Rivals) November 17, 2014
Pinkel says UT QB Josh Dobbs is a different player than the Tigers faced last year in the 31-3 #Mizzou victory.— Gabe DeArmond (@GabeDeArmond) November 17, 2014
Pinkel on UT DL Derek Barnett "Anytime you see a guy do it that quick, it's a little bit of a surprise" but thought Barnett would be good— Gabe DeArmond (@GabeDeArmond) November 17, 2014
#Mizzou recruited Barnett heavily. Pinkel said "He's a really good kid. I talked to him on the phone a lot."— Gabe DeArmond (@GabeDeArmond) November 17, 2014
Pinkel on suspended TN players: "They might be playing…It's pretty unclear what's going to happen. We've got to prepare for everything"— Gabe DeArmond (@GabeDeArmond) November 17, 2014
Pinkel, asked about MU fans' road turnout, is grateful, but also points out putting 58K, 65K in a 71K-seat home stadium."— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) November 18, 2014
Pinkel said other SEC teams pack their home fields: "We've got to get there. We're doing a lot of good things, but we have to get there."— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) November 18, 2014
After beating UK, Tennessee WR Von Pearson was quoted saying, "I feel sorry for Missouri. We're hot right now, and we're ready to explode."— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) November 18, 2014
Mizzou's Maty Mauk was asked about Pearson's "feel sorry for Missouri" comment. Said Mauk: "What’s he mean by that?"— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) November 18, 2014
When quote was further explained, Mauk said: "Oh, that’s fine."— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) November 18, 2014
Spurrier on Mizzou: "I told somebody the other day those guys are good on the road. They know how to hang together."— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) November 19, 2014
More Spurrier on Missouri: "It wouldn’t surprise me if they won these last two." (at Tennessee, vs. Arkansas)— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) November 19, 2014
Whenever Missouri loses a road game Pinkel's going to smack around reporters for jinxing him with all the road streak questions.— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) November 19, 2014
Richt on Missouri: "Gary and the staff have been doing an unbelievable job. They’re very difficult to beat. They don't beat themselves."— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) November 19, 2014
Richt is impressed with how Tennessee has improved under Jones. "Are they ready to beat Missouri? I don't know."— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) November 19, 2014
Jones on MU's defense: "It all starts with Shane Ray and Markus Golden, that defensive front."— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) November 19, 2014
Jones: "They have a swagger about themselves. They expect to win every time they go out, whether it's on the road or at home."— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) November 19, 2014
Jones on Maty Mauk: "Every play, he wants to make something happen. He's a fierce competitor."— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) November 19, 2014
Pinkel on if there's a key to the streak: "If I had a key, I would have done it my whole career." Perhaps in his NYC penthouse. With a phone— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) November 19, 2014
Top QB rushing performances vs. MU this year: Treon Harris (UF) 8-26; Justin Holman (UCF) 16-25; Austin Sumner (SDSU) 2-18.— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) November 19, 2014
Dobbs carried 7 times for 45 yards against Missouri last year.— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) November 19, 2014
Tennessee linebackers coach Tommy Thigpwn said either Jakob Johnson or Kenny Bynum will start at MLB in place of AJ Johnson.— Dustin Dopirak (@TennesseeBeat) November 19, 2014