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Tennessee Volunteers Defensive Preview

Root canals. Stepping on a lego. Hitting your foot on the corner of a wall. The Tennessee defense.

NCAA Football: Alabama-Birmingham at Tennessee
GOOD BOY IN A BLANKET
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t expect the Missouri offense to magically finds its rhythm against Tennessee. The Volunteer defense certainly doesn’t look all that scary, but they do an excellent job of mucking up plays and just being an amoebic pain that slowly suffocates offenses. There will be no joy when Missouri has the ball this week....but when has the opposite ever been true in this past month?

NCAA Football: Alabama-Birmingham at Tennessee
Darel Middleton
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive End

Darel Middleton - JR: 16.5 tackles/2 TFLs/1 sack/1 FF

LaTrell Bumphus - 17.5 tackles/5 TFLs/2 sacks/

Defensive Tackle

Greg Emerson - FR: 18 tackles/4 TFLs/2 sacks/2 PBUs

Kurott Garland - FR: 6.5 tackles

Defensive End

Aubrey Solomon - JR: 18 tackles/3 TFLs/2 sacks

Matthew Butler - JR: 23 tackles/2.5 TFLs/2 sacks

NCAA Football: Missouri at Tennessee
Daniel Bituli...yup, the dude who showed the world Tyler Badie’s butt last year
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

“JACK” Linebacker

Quavaris Crouch - FR: 18.5 tackles/0.5 TFLs/2 PBUs

Deandre Johnson - JR: 7.5 tackles/3 TFLs/2 sacks/1 PBU/1 FF

“SAM” Linebacker

Darrell Taylor - SR: 29 tackles/8 TFLs/7 sacks/4 PBUs/1 FF

Kivon Bennett - SO: 14.5 tackles/3 TFLs/1 sack/1 PBU

Middle Linebacker

Daniel Bituli - SR: 48 tackles/3.5 TFLs/2 sacks/2 PBUs/1 FF

Solon Page III - R-SO: x

Weakside Linebacker

Henry To’o To’o - FR: 40.5 tackles/3.5 TFLs/1 PBU

J.J. Peterson - FR: 6.5 tackles

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Tennessee
Nigel Warrior
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Cornerback

Kenneth George, Jr. - JR: 12 tackles/3 PBUs/1 INT

Warren Burrell - FR: 8.5 tackles

Free Safety

Nigel Warrior - SR: 41.5 tackles/1 TFL/5 PBUs/4 INTs

Tyus Fields - FR: x

Strong Safety

Theo Jackson - JR: 36 tackles/1 TFL/2 PBUs/1 INT

Jaylen McCollough - FR: 14 tackles/2 TFLs/1 sack/1 PBU

Cornerback

Bryce Thompson - SO: 19 tackles/2 TFLs/1 sack/2 PBUs/3 INTs

Alontae Taylor - SO: 19.5 tackles/0.5 TFLs/2 PBUs/1 INT

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Tennessee
Brent Cimaglia
Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Kicker

Brent Cimaglia - JR: 26-26 PATs/19-21 FGs (90.5%)

Punter

Paxton Brooks - SO: 16 punts/43.6 avg/1 touch back/3 fair catches/7 inside 20

Kick Returner

Ty Chandler - JR: 9 returns/22.7 avg/6 fair catches

Punt Returner

Marquez Callaway - SR: 7 returns/20.1 avg/1 TD/ fair catch

Again, as the poor man’s Florida, Tennessee is just as tough with a few lower rankings in key metrics, but overall, it’ll be a slog and I doubt that Missouri’s offense magically becomes the unit of the first 6 weeks. If the Tigers do move the ball, here are their opportunities:

The Forward Pass

31st defending against the run and 48th defending against the pass; not a huge difference, but you always want to target the weakest of the two and Missouri’s running game is still asleep at the wheel. Last week against Florida the receivers actually had one of their better games holding on to the ball, so hopefully that can continue. Johnathon Johnson returning should help, but he’s also one of the biggest culprits of drops. The Volunteers will give you the short stuff while limiting the deep shots; Missouri can’t go deep if their life depended on it so this actually sets up to a (slight) advantage.

The Efficiency Plays

Just like in the passing game above, Tennessee, as a defensive philosophy, is content with letting you be efficient and Missouri can only efficiently move down the field over 11-12-13 plays if it wants to score. Jeremy Pruitt is emulating those late-aught/early teens Alabama defenses that swarmed to the ball and just limited the gains instead of breaking you outright with havoc. If the Volunteers keep that philosophy, it can open up to lots of short stuff on the ground and through the air, milking clock, and taking advantage of the surprisingly terrible Tennessee red zone defense (85th inside the 20, 58th in goaline defense).

Third Dow-ohhhhhhh nooooooo

....sigh. It just seems like if the Tigers see a third down, the drive is over, but the flip side of that coin is that the Volunteer defense really likes to let you keep going once you hit third down. 111th (!!!!) in third-and-long, 41st in third-and-medium, 73rd in third-and-short. If there was ever, ever, a situation in which the Missouri offense got their ish together against a competent defense on third down, this is that situation.

Conclusion

Just score 17. That’s all I ask, and that might be enough to win. In fact, I’ll make it even easier: go three-and-out less than 5 times in the game. Hold on to the ball long enough to give the defense a rest and put some forking points up on the board. Do it for the seniors.