The Missouri Tigers (4-5, 2-4 SEC) will certainly have their hands full on Saturday on the road against the Tennessee Volunteers (8-1, 4-1 SEC) as the Vols come in at No. 5 in the latest College Football Playoff Rankings.
Kick-off on Saturday is set for 11:00 a.m. CST on a rare CBS game for the Tigers with Tom McCarthy (play-by-play), Rick Neuheisel (analyst), and Sherree Burress (sideline reporter) on the call.
Let’s talk about those Vawls. We chatted it over with Nick Carner from Rocky Top Talk to get some insight on Tennessee. Here’s the Q and A:
Sammy Stava: Despite the loss to Georgia, do you think Hendon Hooker can still be considered the Heisman frontrunner or favorite right now?
Nick Carner: Ehhh. I mean — I think he’s still in the race, but the Heisman is a weird award, anyway. However, had Tennessee beat UGA, and had Hooker played a good game, I think he’d be running away with the award right now. But it just didn’t go down like that.
If the Vols run the table and finish 11-1, he’ll have a case and might be in New York for the ceremony, but I don’t see him winning it.
SS: This is the best Tennessee team that you have seen — since when?
NC: Oh, goodness. I’m 33, so most of my adult life, the Vols have been bad. I would say this is the best team since the ‘01 team that finished 11-2 and lost to LSU in the SEC Championship.
SS: If there any, what are some of the weaknesses on this team?
NC: Oh, this team definitely has weaknesses. This program won three games in the all-SEC, COVID season schedule in 2020. Depth is the most obvious answer, right? When Pruitt was fired, 30-something kids hit the trail via the transfer portal.
Heupel has done a great job squeezing every bit of juice out of this lemon, but the Vols are thin at just about every position group — besides maybe wide receiver. If you watched the UT/ UGA game, you saw Tennessee’s lines, on both sides of the ball, get dismantled. There’s some talent along each line, but not many future pros. The secondary has been bad-to-awful at times this year, too.
SS: Besides Hendon Hooker, Jaylin Hyatt, and Cedric Tillman, who are some of the underrated players on Tennessee’s offense that have made big impacts? Who on the defensive side has stood out?
NC: Running back Jaylen Wright has basically split carries with Jabari Small this season, but Wright is the superior athlete and back. Wright’s had some fumbling problems in the past, and those labels can be hard to shake. Upperclassman WR Ramel Keyton stepped up and played well during Tillman’s absence. He made a diving catch against Florida that if you haven’t seen it, you should go YouTube it. It was fantastic
Defensively, interior defensive lineman Omari Thomas has been extremely effective, often taking on multiple blockers and opening up lanes for teammates to make plays. And one can never take his or her eyes on No. 6, Byron Young, Tennessee’s primary EDGE rusher.
SS: After their first loss of the season, Tennessee will have to battle some adversity for the first time. How do you think they will respond? Is there any scenario where you can see Mizzou (at the very least) making this game somewhat interesting?
NC: Yeah — I can see this game being “interesting.” Nobody knows how this team will respond to a loss, and Missouri has a good defense. If the Vols offensive line decides to let the Mizzou defenders get to Hooker and make him uncomfortable, who knows what could happen.
Georgia laid the road map, but do the Tigers have the Jimmies and Joes to follow it?
SS: What’s your final score prediction on this game? Do you see Tennessee coving the 21-point spread?
NC: I’m assuming Tennessee gets back on track this week. I think Heupel has instilled a culture where there’s a lot of peer-to-peer accountability — the guys KNOW more than anybody else how poorly they handled the UGA game. If this game was at Mizzou, I’d give the Tigers a better shot.
And as bad as the Vols’ defense has been this year, they’ve made some strides later in the season, and the Tigers’ offense has had its own struggles, as y’all well know. I’d say the game finishes somewhere around 45-21.