It’s time for one last game at Faurot Field for the 2019 season. Unfortunately, this game doesn’t mean as much as everyone thought it would, but they’re going to play it anyway! The Missouri Tigers (5-5, 2-4) host the Tennessee Volunteers (5-5, 3-3 SEC) on Senior Night Saturday with the kick-off set for 6:30 p.m. CST. Missouri has beaten Tennessee 50-17 two years in a row, but the Tigers are desperate for a win at this point after a four-game losing streak. It won’t be easy against a Volunteer team that has won three in a row and four out of their last five.
To get a Tennessee perspective, here’s what Terry Lambert from Rocky Top Talk had to say about this upcoming match up.
Sammy Stava: What do you think were the main, realistic expectations for Tennessee this season in year two under Jeremy Pruitt?
Terry Lambert: Just about every realistic Tennessee fan out there expected a 7-5 season. Somewhat ironically, we may still see that — although it’s super painful to go back and think about the possibility of nine wins if you can just beat Georgia State and BYU. Anyways, it was realistic to think Tennessee could come out of the gutter offensively, especially with the Jim Chaney hire. The Vols have done that at least, although it took a month to get going. No Tennessee fan expected to compete for the East this year, but most expected to simply beat the teams Tennessee was supposed to beat. Now, coming down the stretch, Jeremy Pruitt has a shot to do that after the rockiest start you could possibly imagine.
SS: These two teams are heading in opposite directions. After a 5-1 start, Missouri has lost four straight. Meanwhile, Tennessee has won four out of their last five after their 1-4 start. What’s been the biggest key to this Vols’ latest turnaround?
TL: It’s been two things. First off, the quarter back play. Jarrett Guarantano was downright awful to start the season. He was benched for freshman Brian Maurer, who was able to breathe life into the Tennessee offense. Just when you thought he was about to run away with the job, he sustains back-to-back concussions, forcing Tennessee back to Guarantano. Thankfully, Guarantano has responded and has been playing really well. Now with Maurer healthy, Tennessee regularly turns to Guarantano off the bench. Somehow, it’s all working.
The second thing is the offensive line. Tennessee started two true five-star freshman tackles from day one, which took a minute to gel and get going. They’re not exactly playing dominant football in the trenches, but it’s a ton better than what we’ve seen over the last two seasons. Pass protection has been solidified, which has given Guarantano and Maurer a chance in the pocket. Lately, they’ve been delivering. Those two ingredients working together are why Tennessee came out of that tailspin.
SS: Both teams have identical 5-5 records, but Missouri’s season has been a disappointment and Tennessee’s season is a step in the right direction. The Vols are playing for a bowl game, while Barry Odom may very well be coaching for his job. Who do you think needs this game more?
TL: I think Missouri does, without a doubt. Jeremy Pruitt has coached his way back into the good graces of Tennessee fans, who are now looking to book a trip to a bowl game. There’s a ton of momentum right now in Knoxville, and Tennessee closes with a truly awful Vanderbilt team next week. Odom can beat Arkansas next week to get to six, but things don’t seem as peachy in Columbia as they do in Knoxville.
SS: I’ve got a sense that Tennessee players have the “50-17” scores two years in a row in the back of their minds. Do you think the Vols have had this one circled on the calendar as a revenge game or are they going to approach this like any other game?
TL: That’s probably pretty likely. Although my mind goes back to the offseason where Odom and Pruitt had some beef over the Missouri transfer situation. They supposedly squashed all of that before SEC Media Days, but you know both guys would love nothing more than to win in a big way on Saturday afternoon. It should be a fun one with a more equal level of talent this year.
SS: How do you see this game playing out on Saturday? Have a final score prediction?
TL: There’s just something clicking with this Tennessee team right now. Add in a bye week to get healthy and to gameplan for Missouri, and I think it tips the scales in Tennessee’s direction. That Vegas line we saw come out on Sunday was pretty surprising to me, all things considered. I think we see a competitive, defensive game. Give me a Tennessee win, somewhere along the lines of a 16-13 game.
Thanks to Terry Lambert for the time. You can follow him and Rocky Top Talk on Twitter for Tennessee coverage this week.