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Pregamin’ Tennessee


“Revenge is never a straight line. It’s a forest, And like a forest it’s easy to lose your way... To get lost... To forget where you came in,” Derek Dooley, probably.
Josh Matejka

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So Fresh and So Clean, Clean


This is easily my favorite uni combination Missouri has rolled out this year. The all-white look with the clean black-and-white block M on the lid? Too good. Missouri didn’t have to do much to look better than the universal eye-sore that is Tennessee orange, but they really went all out.

What the “Experts” are Saying

While all seemed lost after the Kentucky game, Missouri is now bowl eligible after a Top 15 road win and a drag-em-out win against a tough Vanderbilt team. What has been the biggest key to this team’s surge?

Pete Scantlebury, Football Editor: They played one perfect game and one not-so-perfect game, so the biggest thing I’ve seen is that they’re finally starting to win in different ways. Against Florida, they were largely flawless — that was the most complete game (against a team with a pulse) we’ve seen under Odom. Against Vanderbilt, they made mistakes that likely would have cost them the game if it were a year or even three weeks ago; instead, they responded and hung on just long enough to seal the win. I don’t think it’s rocket science with what they’re doing differently; I think it’s a group of players (and a coaching staff) that’s maturing as the season goes along.

Ryan Herrera, Football Beat Writer: Run defense. Missouri has had to go up against some really impressive running backs over the last few weeks, but the front seven has been stout — if not the best its looked in years. Kentucky’s unit only managed 91 rushing yards and no rushing touchdowns, even though it was led by the SEC’s rushing leader at that point. And despite that loss, the Tigers have won three of its last four games on the strength of that defensive unit are in a great position to win out to end the season. Locking down an entire opponent’s plan of attack is critical, and the run defense has been the biggest reason for Missouri’s defensive success.

Josh Matejka, Editor: It’s easy to overlook, but Missouri’s offense returning to form has been the biggest factor. We can point to the defense making big plays when it needs to (in classic bend-don’t-break fashion), but the overall balance of Drew Lock getting his weapons back and Damarea Crockett rediscovering his star form has been massive. It allowed Missouri to sprint away from an offensively challenged team like Florida and outpace an upstart Vanderbilt in a game full of mistakes. The Tigers don’t have to be perfect, but when the offense is ticking there aren’t many teams that can keep up with them.

Freshmen have been the hot topic around Missouri after Daniel Parker Jr. and Dominic Gicinto showed out against Vandy. Which frosh have you been most impressed with this season?

Pete Scantlebury: Daniel Parker, without a doubt. Tyler Badie, Jalen Knox have been stellar all season. Gicinto and Kam Scott have had their moments. But Parker has become a difference-maker at tight end, and he was a freakin’ defensive end until mid-August. The injuries to Kendall Blanton and Albert Okwuegbunam might have derailed this season; instead, Parker -- a true freshman who is still learning the position -- has buoyed the offensive, especially with his run-blocking.

Ryan Herrera: Jalen Knox is the frontrunner for Missouri’s Freshman of the Year, but Tyler Badie is a very close second. Knox stepped up immensely in the weeks both Emanuel Hall and Nate Brown were out with injuries. Drew Lock needed someone to throw to in those games, and Knox took his chance and ran with it. He’s fourth on the team 413 yards on 26 receptions, a better yards-per-catch average than Johnathon Johnson and Albert Okwuegbunam, the two players immediately ahead of him. The receiving corps has faced a ton of adversity this season, and Knox broke out when he needed to. For Badie, all that really needs to be said is that he managed to steal carries from Damarea Crockett and Larry Rountree III. Statistics aside, if you manage to do that as a freshman, you’ve got a pretty good college career ahead of you.

Josh Matejka: The pure numbers don’t show it, but how can it not be Daniel Parker, Jr.? If you’d have told me a few months ago Mizzou wanted to play Parker as a tight end, I’d have told you he’d be committing somewhere else. But the freshman has taken the position switch and flourished with it, becoming a key component of the offense. He doesn’t cover completely for the loss of Albert Okwuegbunam, but he does give Lock a steady-handed threat down the middle to pick up chunk yardage. And he blocks well. Knox, Badie and even Scott have better highlights, but Parker has impressed me almost as much as anyone on the roster.

Tennessee looked like a rollover win a few weeks ago, but that was before they housed Kentucky in Knoxville last week. Does Jeremy Pruitt’s team scare you now that they’ve got a signature win on their resume?

Pete Scantlebury: Personally, I think their win over Auburn was more impressive than the one over Kentucky, because we all saw the clock start to hit midnight and the chariot started to turn back into a pumpkin against Missouri a few weeks ago. Then Georgia happened, and then a talented if erratic Tennessee team cleaned up the scraps. Basically, I think Kentucky was more smoke-and-mirrors than people are admitting.

What would scare me as a Missouri fan is that Tennessee is a true “I cut the brakes, bitches” wild-card this season. They beat Auburn and Kentucky and then barely squeak by against Charlotte. I don’t know what Tennessee team will show up on Saturday, and I think that scares me the most.

Ryan Herrera: I don’t find Tennessee any more menacing than I did before it took out Kentucky. I mean, Missouri had a complete second half meltdown against the Wildcats, and still only lost by a point after a *cough* controversial defensive pass interference call. Then the next week, the Tigers dismantled Florida and got their own signature win under their belt. The SEC is a great conference with talented teams throughout, so I’d say my initial thoughts that Missouri would have to play a solid, complete game against the Volunteers still hold true.

Josh Matejka: It’s funny, because I think Tennessee fans and Missouri fans are probably talking about each others teams in the exact same way. For as unpredictable as Missouri has been all year, Tennessee hasn’t been any better. They have a very good win against Auburn, which isn’t quite as good as Missouri’s win at The Swamp. They’ve got another good win against an (admittedly regressing) Kentucky team that probably looks a little better than Missouri’s win at Purdue. And they’ve got a, “what the hell was that?” win against Charlotte, much like Mizzou’s win against Vandy last week.

I’ve been nervous about the Tennessee game for weeks, but the Kentucky game didn’t really change anything. It just confirmed that the Volunteers’ season has been just as wacky as the Tigers’.

PICK ‘EM. Let’s get a score and one player on offense and defense who will need to play well to secure a W in Knoxville.

Pete Scantlebury: I think Missouri wins and covers. Tennessee’s defense has been good; its offense has not. But Missouri’s offense is rounding into form, and Emanuel Hall is another week healthier and coming off a down game. I think that bodes well for Missouri. I think Hall goes over 100, I think Tre Williams has two sacks and Missouri wins this one, 31-20.

Ryan Herrera: 33-17, Missouri. On offense, as is the case every week, Drew Lock needs to have an efficient performance. I don’t think it will take a career game from Lock to knock off Tennessee, but he has to complete his passes and avoid interceptions for this offense to go anywhere. Defensively, Terry Beckner Jr. has to keep leading that rush defense. We saw the Volunteers rely heavily on their backfield in the win over Kentucky, but again, winning the ground game is something the Tigers have proven to be capable of. If Beckner continues to take charge of that unit, I’m expecting a good day for Missouri in Knoxville.

Josh Matejka: It’s hard to pick a game like this as both teams have the potential to come out firing, flat or any combination of the two. I do think Missouri is the better team overall, but that doesn’t particularly matter when it comes to playing November road games in the SEC (unless you’re Alabama.)

Ultimately, I think the game rides on — who else? — Drew Lock. Tennessee has played three quarterbacks at or above Lock’s level this year, was torched by two (Will Grier, Tua Tagovailoa) and the other (Jake Fromm) never really needed to have his best game in a blowout. So if there were a defense vulnerable to his talents, this would be it. On defense, I think it needs to be DeMarkus Acy. He’s been quietly very good this year, and a big game from him would help mitigate some of the damage Guarantano can do. Assuming all that happens... Missouri 34, Tennessee 27.