I think we know how Missouri games are going to be played out by this point, so I hope we’re all on board with the fact that this is not going to be a good game. Missouri is a 5.5 point favorite, yes, but it’s two Top 25 defenses going against two offenses ranked in the 80s. Points will be at a premium, it’ll be a field position game, and the first defense to break loses. For the past four games that’s been Missouri. Tough to see that going any other way but let’s at least take a look to see how the Tiger defense will be shutting down the Volunteer offense for at least three quarters.
Jarrett Guarantano - JR: 105-169 (62.1%)/1,402 yards/13 TDs/5 INTs/7.3 ypa
Brian Maurer - FR: 34-71 (47.9%)/524 yards/2 TDs/5 INTs/6.5 ypa
Ty Chandler - JR: 118 rushes/597 yards/5.1 ypc/3 TDs/4.96 HLT/47.5% OPP/39% success
Tim Jordan - JR: 77 rushes/310 yards/4.0 ypc/1 TD/3.39 HLT/45.5% OPP/40.3% success
Marquez Callaway - SR: 39 targets/22 catches (55%)/487 yards/5 TDs/12.5 ypt
Cedric Tillman - FR: 7 targets/4 catches (57.1%)/60 yards/1 TD/8.6 ypt
Josh Palmer - JR: 40 targets/22 catches (55%)/265 yards/1 TD/6.6 ypt
Ramel Keyton - FR: 8 targets/2 catches (25%)/44 yards/0 TDs/5.5 ypt
Jauan Jennings - SR: 69 targets/50 catches (72.5%)/771 yards/7 TDs/1.2 ypt
Tyler Byrd - SR: 7 targets/4 catches (57.1%)/61 yards/1 TD/8.7 ypt
Dominick Wood-Anderson - SR: 26 targets/14 catches (53.8%)/197 yards/0 TDs/7.6 ypt
Austin Pope - JR: 8 targets/4 catches (50%)/21 yards/0 TDs/2.6 ypt
Wanya Morris - FR
Jahmir Johnson - R-JR
Trey Smith - JR
Chris Akporoghene - FR
Brandon Kennedy - R-SR
Ryan Johnson - R-JR
Jerome Carvin - SO
Riley Locklear - JR
Darnell Wright - FR
Marcus Tatum - R-JR
Tennessee has been rotating three quarterbacks throughout the year, all to various levels of success, so the Tigers might be facing the experienced, statue-esque Guarantano or the more mobile (oh god no) Brian Maurer. Despite their skill sets, I’d prefer the less accurate, more turnover-prone Maurer, but I’m sure we’ll see glimpses of both. Regardless, the offense is only slightly better than the Tigers, so they’re easy to shut down. Here’s how.
The Passing Game
The Volunteers have one of the worst rushing attacks in the country: 103rd overall, 109th in success rate, 109th in efficiency, 120th in explosiveness, 94th in stuff rate. So, just like Florida, the Volunteers have skewed more and more to predictability and passing frequently on early downs before using the run in got-to-get-it short yardage situations. Therefore, the Missouri secondary will have to be prepared for more of the short stuff, except this time they’ll be faced with a legitimate high-volume explosive pass catcher in Jauan Jennings. With a 72% catch rate and 11.2 yards per target, he is reliable and the one true threat that Tennessee has. Josh Palmer and Marquez Callaway, the other two starters, each have a catch rate over 55% so they’re no slouches either, but Jennings is the biggest threat. If you can shut him down (best case scenario) or limit the production of the other receivers (more likely), that 24th best passing offense with the 28th best explosiveness can be kept in check. The Volunteers are also 64th in sack rate, so expect a few more Elliott/Whiteside take downs as well (because we know our defensive ends aren’t going to do it, hahahahaha... aw, I’m sad).
It’s a good thing Tennessee is 22nd in passing downs because they get a lot of game time practice at them. Tennessee is basically a poor man’s Florida in that they pass a lot, can’t run, struggle in standard downs, and are lukewarm in third downs. It’ll be super important for the Tigers to feast on standard downs (i.e. tackles for loss) because, for reasons unknown, both quarterbacks are magic in long-distance situations. They go from 92nd in standard downs to 22nd in passing downs, 108th in standard downs success rate to 57th in passing downs success rate, and 105th in SD efficiency to 37th in PDs. That’s....that’s not how it’s supposed to work! Corralling Jennings will help but also just making sure the explosive play doesn’t hit (45th in PD explosiveness).
28th in third-and-long, 95th (!) in third-and medium, 38th in third-and-short. Again, this fits the profile of a passing offense that hits big plays and long-yardage situations. Missouri did an excellent job of holding Florida to a single third down conversion in the first half and they’re going to need that same sort of performance against Tennessee to give the team any hope of a win. If the Volunteers are shuffling through 1st and 2nd down but hitting big on 3rd, it’s going to be another long day for the Tiger defense.
Hold on for four quarters. The Missouri defense has been excellent at winning halves of games, but can never go the distance. That is not their fault, mind you, but the key to a Missouri win is to hold the opponent under ten points OR score a touchdown (or two!) themselves. If they don’t do that, it doesn’t matter, because there’s no way this Missouri offense, as it is currently constructed, will consistently move the ball on the Tennessee defense. Good luck, Ryan Walters!