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PREGAMIN’ TENNESSEE

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YEE-HAW Y’ALL, TENNESSEE IS COMING AND WE’RE IN FOR A HOEDOWN (OF MEDIOCRE TEAMS)

Drink Up!

Coach Drinkwitz didn’t make any big splashes on the media circuit this week, but he did make some candid remarks regarding Mookie Cooper.

Cooper, as you may have seen, is officially listed as, “Out,” against Tennessee, but the guys on the beat don’t expect him to miss the rest of the season. It seems like Cooper has been battling some nagging injuries and the Tigers want to give him some more time to rest up.

This sort of injury has to be the toughest thing in the game to analyze, and I can’t imagine how much more difficult it is to deal with in house. Anyone who has seen Cooper’s highlight reel could tell over the first four weeks that he’s not operating at 100 percent. The elite speed isn’t there, and the elusive agility seems down-to-earth compared to his previous tape.

However, this clearly isn’t an injury that’s keeping him off the field wholesale. And when a player is cleared to go, he probably pushes as hard as he can (or is able to) to make an impact. The reality is, unfortunately, that Mookie Cooper at 65 to 70 percent isn’t the type of game-breaking player Mizzou was expecting when they recruited him. Can he still be an integral part of the offense? Sure, but he’s not going to give you the game-breaking ability you want.

Therefore, his injury has been a game of weighing benefits and costs thus far. Do you go with the player who is hampered, but one you still trust more than the guys behind him? Or do you risk a number of weeks without him, letting someone less dynamic take his place, hoping that the missed time will yield bigger rewards later? It’s a tough calculus for Eli Drinkwitz, who is still trying to scratch as many wins as he can in his second year at Mizzou.

For now it appears that Missouri is comfortable letting Cooper rest, and that’s not a bad call. The first few weeks have proven that Missouri’s passing game is deadly efficient (12th in SP+) and has a cornucopia of options. Even without Cooper, the Tigers should be able to spread the ball around until their playmaker is healthy enough to take the field and start busting plays like he did as a high schooler in St. Louis.

Came Through Drippin’

Or... maybe a 9.5? It would be a true perfect 10 with the gold block M.

Regardless, this is the ideal iteration of the threads on this one. The clean stripes and updated font on the numbers really let the gold pop. It’s a masterclass.

What the “Experts” are saying

It’s a little odd to see Mizzou at 2-2 on the young season, as it easily feels like either Kentucky or Boston College could’ve swung the other way. Do the two early losses have you worrying at all about this season or the trajectory of the program overall?

Missouri v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Nate Edwards, Football Editor: Not at all. I’m negative Nate and embrace bad things happening! But seriously, I’ve said all along this would be a rebuilding year and Missouri wasn’t nearly as good at their .500 record in 2020 would indicate. We’re seeing that come true with, currently, a losing record in one-possession games. But the offense is much improved, the defense will just take a little longer to form. The future is bright given recruiting efforts and the Drinkwitz staff’s ability to manage a gameday. But progress in a bumpy, non-linear road and we’re currently in the midst of a rough stretch.

Kortay Vincent, Football Beat Writer: I am not one bit worried about the trajectory of the program, but I am for this season. Now the Tigers have little to no room for error if they want to play postseason football and get extra practices. I really though at a minimum they’d walk out of these two games 1-1, but I guess we know get to see how.

Ryan Faller, Contributing Writer: Aware of what’s coming down the pipe in terms of recruiting, I do not fret over the future of the program. What worries me is, what the future of this season holds if the miscues that characterized the losses at Kentucky and Boston College — and the grossness doesn’t bear repeating — are not at least cleaned up somewhat.

At this point, I think we all can agree that the likelihood of them disappearing is zilch. If they’re cleaned up, does the offense still need to score at least 28 points every time out? I say yes.

Let’s face it: Missouri is an average football team. They’re not really bad, but they’re not that good, either. The step between weeks 1 and 2 that many above-average teams take was not in the cards this season, and so we hope Drink squeezes every drop of talent out the current roster to break even on the remaining swing games, starting with Tennessee.

Every year against Tennessee we like to reminisce on a question that changes year-in-and-year-out: Who is Mizzou’s true rival in the SEC? And who is your personal favorite team to root against?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Tennessee at Florida Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nate Edwards: Mizzou’s true SEC rival is South Carolina as I’ve stated several times before. Peer programs, several close games, off court drama, living in cities with the same name...that’s the rivalry. But I do enjoy rooting against Tennessee the most. They are the Nebraska of the SEC and it pleases me when they fail.

Kortay Vincent: I think Kentucky is Mizzou’s biggest rival. The game is always important for the way the East standings finish up, and the two teams seem to care when they play each other. As far as my favorite team to root against, that has to be Florida. Dan Mullen is just that unlikable for obvious reasons.

Ryan Faller: For me, rivalries are based on a number of criteria, but chief among them are those memorable moments that define games, regardless of whether they’re characterized by Mother Nature, exhilaration, or just soulless evil.

The matchup with Tennessee has been nice and a welcomed, considerable upgrade from a Baylor or Texas Tech, but I don’t know how you don’t go with South Carolina here.

Overall, the recent trajectory between the programs at Missouri and Kentucky are arguably more comparable, but the past decade of games against the Gamecocks is filled with enduring stories: f’ing Connor Shaw, Andrew Baggett’s PAT off the upright, the offense’s Jekyll-and-Hyde act in the other Columbia a season later, and the perfectly-timed (or fabricated) monsoon of 2018.

Tennessee is just as flawed as Mizzou, but they boast one strength that will make Tiger fans quake: their run game. Missouri has yet to find a way to stop the run, so how would you propose they do so against the Vols?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Tennessee at Florida Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nate Edwards: If I had an actual answer I would have emailed Steve Wilks by now, but I don’t really have one. My best guess is to get wild with blitzes and disguise everything you want to do. Set the safeties 10 yards deep and have both crash down before the snap. Stack the line with everyone and then send two guys off of one end while everyone else reads the play. Just random stuff to mix it up because this defense isn’t good enough to win via conventional means.

Kortay Vincent: I don’t know how they can stop the run, but I do know that the defense was most effective against BC when dialing up blitzes. I would just say blitz more and hope it covers for the struggles of the run defense. If they are able to get pressure in the backfield, it should lead to turnovers, too.

Ryan Faller: Mizzou’s run defense has been equal opportunity, so there’s really no need to do a deep dive into the Tennessee running game, other than to say it’s ranked 32nd nationally — which is only slightly worse than Kentucky (31st) and well within the range of the review-view mirror of BC (19th).

What does that mean for Saturday? I have no idea.

Given the prowess of the Vols on the ground, I think their season average (204) is well within range. I just want to see incremental improvement from Steve Wilks’ unit.

Some semblance of gap control would be nice. Maybe the occasional threat of backfield disruption. Do just enough to make Tennessee consider the downfield pass as options on first and second down.

I think the Tiger offense will score some points, but if the D gives Josh Huepel the impression his unit can be nothing more than a one-trick pony, the Vols could match or exceed the Eagles (49) or Wildcats (52) in rushing attempts.

PICK ‘EM! Mizzou is currently a -2.5 favorite at home with the over/under set at 65. Does a swing game finally go their way this week? And who needs to have a big outing to make sure of it?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Missouri at Boston College Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nate Edwards: On the podcast I said 28-27 Tennessee so I would pick the Vols and the under. If Missouri is going to win this game it needs Bazelak to play mistake-free ball and a receiver - probably Chism, but I’ll take anyone (or multiple) - to have a big day.

Oh, and if someone on the defense wants to get wild and force a few turnovers - hello, Shawn Robinson! - that would also be welcome.

Kortay Vincent: I want to pick Mizzou ATS, but they haven’t covered once this year. Still, with that being said, I’ll take Tigers -2.5. They’re due, right? I also love the over in this game with the lack of defense on both sides. I could see both teams scoring 40 in this one.

Ryan Faller: As bleak of a picture as I have painted here thus far, something tells me the law of averages kicks in Saturday.

Despite the 11 AM start, the defense plays with a little more inspiration, and I think the Tigers’ week-long breakdown of Florida’s offensive success against the Vols last week pays off, particularly on third down.

Tyler Badie continues to be the straw that stirs the cocktail, but give me the combo of Barrett Bannister and Chance Luper to make the difference late as Mizzou pulls even in conference.

Mizzou, 31-[score redacted]