♫ I’m So Sophisticated ♫
When you’re getting ready for a beatdown, best not overthink it. I jest... slightly.
This is a pretty classic look that has good accents of Mizzou’s gold... even if it requires something a little bolder up top. I know we’re always clamoring for the Block M, but something bolder would’ve popped better on a fit that’s mostly neutral up and down. I would’ve even been OK with a white M.
Still, it’s hard to complain too much. It’s a solid B.
What’s On Tap?
Tennessee’s a hard state to drink with. Their whiskey isn’t as good as Kentucky, their beer isn’t as good as North Carolina and... well, it’s not like there’s a lot else going on there (sorry local, vendors, send me something to prove me wrong.)
I do, however, have fond memories of visiting the Ole Smoky Tennessee Distillery and drinking far too much moonshine. It was pretty tasty and had the added benefit of not making me go blind!
For this week, we need something drinkable and strong because this game has the potential to get ugly fast. So we’re turning to the Tennessee Apple Jack courtesy of Ole Smoky’s website.
2.5 oz. Ole Smoky® Apple Pie (70) Moonshine or
2.5 oz. Ole Smoky® Apple Pie (40) Moonshine
1.5 oz. Ole Smoky® Blended Whiskey
Mix well in a glass over ice
Drink and be careful
Know Thy Enemy
At this point in the season, we know what Missouri is. The script on them feels incredibly familiar no matter how many novel ways we try to present it... their defense will give them a chance in every game. Fortunately, as Nate points out in his preview, that was the formula for both Pitt and Georgia, the two teams that have played Tennessee closest this year.
At home the Vols are undefeated with a scoring margin of Tennessee 321 - Home Opponent 128. The hope is that Missouri can replicate the performance of Pitt - another Missouri clone that only runs the ball (poorly) and plays dynamite defense - without the benefit of catching them outside Neyland Stadium. It can be done! But it won’t be easy.
Tennessee’s defense isn’t quite as good as Mizzou’s, but it’s highly effective against the run. And to be honest, did you expect the run game to be a huge factor? Missouri will need to move the ball through the air and hope Brady Cook can avoid the mistakes that have plagued him this season.
So, once again, I am begging Eli Drinkwitz to let go of his outside-zone-binky and rely on Brady Cook’s...arm talent...to move the ball against the 93rd-best passing defense. The Vols’ secondary is allowing a 43.5% success rate through the air so far this year compared to Missouri’s 37.9% success rate when they throw the ball.
Parker points this out in the Q&A below and Nate agrees — the key to disrupting the Vols’ elite offense is throwing Heupel’s guys off their rhythm. Without tempo, the offense stutters and struggles to extend drives.
The key is to disrupt the timing of the passing game as Josh Heupel thrives on utilizing his full personnel options at a fast tempo and in unique situations. Against Georgia and Pitt he had to keep guys back to block and they were so inconsistent in their successful plays they couldn’t utilize their tempo to wear out the opposition. Tennessee is used to success rates in the 50s and Missouri’s defense holds teams in the 30s.
There’s no doubt about it — this feels like just as much of a forgone conclusion as Georgia did. Of course, we saw how the Georgia game turned out, so there’s always room for a surprise. But it’s going to require some haymakers from the Tigers, who seem ill-equipped to walk out of Neyland with a win.
Missouri has the defense to replicate the designs of Pitt’s and Georgia’s game plans that limited Tennessee. But Missouri does not have the offense to keep up and will need to punch left-handed to surprise-knock-out the favorite in this matchup. If they can it’ll be a fun game. If they can’t it’ll be over quickly.
Mizzou came close against Kentucky last week, but couldn’t secure their fifth victory of the season. It may have been the Tigers best shot at securing bowl eligibility... are your hopes still high for six wins with Tennessee, New Mexico State and Arky ahead?
Nate Edwards, Football Editor: Sure. They’ll do whatever against Tennessee. They will beat New Mexico State. And Arkansas is at home and, as we all know, Missouri is always eligible for a win at home. Arkansas is scuffling a bit as of late, especially with a banged-up K.J. Jefferson. And with a Barry Odom defense that has been much less effective as usual due to injury, there’s certainly a chance the Missouri Arkansas BATTLE LINE RIVALRY BROUGH TO YOU BY SHELTER INSURANCE will be two 5-6 teams battling for bowl eligibility. Missouri can do it. Will they? Eh?
Parker Gillam, Beat Writer: Not really. Kentucky was a much more plausible win than Arkansas, as the Razorbacks may be fighting for bowl eligibility as well and have an offense that can easily out-duel Mizzou’s.
On top of that, I just do not see this offense improving enough to win two more games. Brady Cook has been incredibly inconsistent, and unless he gives us another South Carolina-like performance, then it won’t be enough to beat Arkansas. 5-7 will be a disappointment and a step back from last year, but it isn’t the end of the world.
Brandon Haynes, Beat Writer: It doesn’t get much more suspenseful than this. With a projected loss against Tennessee and a victory against New Mexico State, Mizzou would face Arkansas with a bowl berth on the line. The Battle Line Rivalry will likely send the winner straight into bowl consideration, while the loser contemplates what went wrong throughout the season. I wouldn’t say my hopes are high for Mizzou’s chances at a bowl bid, but with the way this season has gone, crazier things have happened. The Tigers defense will not only need to be lights out against Arkansas, but the offense will have to prove itself as well. If Mizzou does miss out...just think back to Auburn.
Josh Matejka, Deputy Site Manager: It’s really going to come down to Arkansas, right? Mizzou will have the talent to easily out-pace NMSU and won’t to keep up with Tennessee. So the Battle Line Rivalry offers the best opportunity in the end. I must say, I think that’s a pretty winnable game. Arkansas’ offense is good, but Barry Odom’s defense is gettable, which is all Missouri requires with a defense like theirs. It’ll be a closely contested matchup, but I will say I’m glad its at home in a season when fan support has been top notch.
Just before the game, Mizzou announced a contract extension for Eli Drinkwitz, along with a nice pay raise to boot. What are your thoughts on the deal and its timing?
Nate Edwards: Depends on how you’re feeling right now. If you’re super upset how this season has gone then you’re probably fairly miffed at the extension happening now. If you, like me, thought this season was all about building towards ‘23 then, yeah, you’re probably not as perturbed about it. It does seem odd that Missouri was, essentially, bidding against themselves - his contract wasn’t set to expire until a few more years at the time - and not only extending Drink but giving him a raise when the only other interest out there is the rumored wandering eye of Eli Drinkwitz. But here’s the thing: this administration is smart enough to know that a program like Missouri gains nothing by going back on the coaching carousel every three years. Lock down your guy, give him room to build and operate, and if he can’t get it done in five or six years (or he leaves for somewhere else) then at least you know, for sure, that it wasn’t going to work. I endorse this thought.
Parker Gillam: Timing? Not great. It just gives fans more ammunition to get downtrodden on this program. It could have easily happened after the season and the administration would have still been displaying their faith in him. The only reasoning I can understand is, with the recruiting cycle, they needed to prove to recruits that they are all in on Drink.
As for the decision, I do like it. This gives Drinkwitz his full-time with this recruiting class he just pulled in. Too many coaches are fired before they are able to fully recruit and develop their own guys. This will give Drink the chance to do that, and it will be a large enough sample size to know 100% if he is the coach for Mizzou. Personally, I think this is a decision that will age well, and buy 2025/26, this program will be at the point fans want.
Brandon Haynes: Honestly, I think the extension should have come at a different time. Announcing that your head coach just got extended mere hours before they play arguably their most important game in regards to bowl implications is somewhat questionable. In the grand scheme of the season, Drinkwitz hasn’t done much on the field to justify a raise or extension. While the margin of loss has decreased, those results are still not translating into victories, which is what an extension generally awards.
Despite the timing though, the deal does work. For one, Drinkwitz will have ample time to showcase his esteemed recruiting classes, especially considering the end of his deal will correlate directly with the year that a majority of his recruits become seniors. This deal also shows Mizzou’s willingness to buy into the future and solidify its direction. Rather than looking elsewhere and practically starting over, the program is trusting Drinkwitz to right the ship, even if it may not look like a raise is the right decision at this point in time.
Josh Matejka: The timing is odd, no matter which way you slice it, especially when you consider the hefty raise it includes. It made sense to extend Baker, as I’m sure he was already getting calls from bigger programs. And Drinkwitz needed some extra years for recruiting purposes. But I’m not so sure what the benefit of bumping his salary by 50 percent was. Drinkwitz has done a lot of things right as the program head — better recruiting, better marketing, better politicking — but on-field progress has been lacking.
The deal itself is fine with me, mostly because it shows Missouri is willing to spend. I’ve been pretty outspoken about my theory that Drinkwitz wants to leave, but I wonder if getting some more cash and seeing his own need to progress has settled him a bit. If Drinkwitz is willing to give it some time at Missouri and Missouri is willing to do the same, it could be that this deal was the ticket to keeping him around beyond 2023.
It’s been quite unfortunate to watch Tennessee rediscover its power this season under the watchful eye of former Mizzou OC Josh Heupel. How has Heupel turned the Vols — just two seasons removed from the disastrous Jeremy Pruitt regime — so quickly?
Nate Edwards: I’m not going to pretend to understand the inner workings of Knoxville but it seems pretty simple to me: unlimited resources, clutch portal additions, and a scheme that is simple to learn and easy to overwhelm. We saw what Heupel could do with only Drew Lock, and now he has a dynamite (and old) quarterback who runs the system flawlessly with an unending number of talented skill position guys. Neither line is super impressive and the defense is more opportunistic than elite, but this is what happens when a borderline blue blood finds a coach with excellent program management skills.
Parker Gillam: A lot can certainly be said about Heupel’s scheme. It’s unorthodox, a pain to defend, and attracts plenty of offensive talent because of how free and fast it is.
The bigger thing with coaching at Tennessee is the pressure and expectation. Fortunately for Heupel, he arrived in Knoxville as a largely unheralded and doubted hire. Yes, that was a good thing. There was virtually no pressure on him to succeed immediately, because after years of suffering, UT fans didn’t expect much different with a guy they barely knew anything about. Heupel quietly laid the foundation in 2021 and then closed the deal in 2022. He’s proven he can develop players (just look at Hendon Hooker, who struggled at VT), can win big games, and is a personality that both players and fans can really get behind. Recruiting success will follow suit, allowing the Vols to stay near the top of the conference for the foreseeable future.
Brandon Haynes: Heupel has established a culture at Tennessee, replacing the Pruitt regime with one that is directly playing to the Vols’ strengths.
Just a few years removed from the announcement of NCAA sanctions, the result for Heupel in his first years as head coach could have been disastrous. Instead, it looks as if he’s established a system where the players buy in and the plays complement their strengths. While this sounds oddly simple, Heupel’s offensive background and style correlates directly with the speed, talent and play-making of the Tennessee offense. Most importantly though, Heupel has his quarterback. Hendon Hooker is a key to the Vols’ success and without his fit into the offensive scheme, Tennessee would look like a much-different offense.
Josh Matejka: Must be hard to win when you’ve got talent and resources, huh?
I’m only half joking when I say this. The Vols turnaround under Heupel speaks far more to their own incompetence than it does his talents — though they are many. It’s unfathomable to look back at the last decade of coaches at Tennessee — Derek Dooley! Butch Jones! Jeremy Pruitt! — and think how bad each of those turned out. Tennessee isn’t quite at the level of Georgia and Alabama, but they’ll always have full pockets, and they’ll always draw top-tier talent. At some point Tennessee was going to stop tripping over itself, and it did with Heupel, whose system has benefitted from having high-end playmakers and a QB for him to mold.
PICK ‘EM! Tennessee is an understandably heavy favorite in Knoxville and will be pissed coming off last week’s loss to Georgia. Is there a recipe for a Mizzou upset? What will it require?
Nate Edwards: You can read my opponent preview for more details but it basically involves Missouri’s defense replicating their performance against Kentucky, getting a few turnovers, and hoping the offense hits on 8-10 explosive plays while generating at least 6 scoring opportunities with at least 5 points per opportunity. That’s all.
Parker Gillam: It’s a very, very slim chance. But, Georgia did show that this Tennessee offensive isn’t invincible.
In my eyes, the main keys are keeping up with the Vols’ tempo and disrupting the timing of their passing game. Rakestraw and Abrams-Draine are capable of hanging with the likes of Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman, but they have to be physical at the line of scrimmage and really challenge those guys to where they are not just running free. The Bulldogs also were the first team this season to get consistent pressure on Hooker. If McGuire and co. can get home, then they can slow down Tennessee.
Still, the Vols are going to get to at least 30. Do we think Mizzou has what it takes to reach that mark in one of the toughest places to play in the country? I just can’t see it happening.
Brandon Haynes: Can Mizzou’s offense actually keep up?
Even though its high-scoring Tennessee, I do think Mizzou’s defense will hold its own for at least two quarters Saturday. If that’s the case, then the true key will be whether the Tigers’ offense can expose the Vols defense in those quarters. Establishing offensive consistency early will likely determine whether Mizzou even has a shot at an upset, and that’ll begin on its first possession. Perhaps the greatest offensive factor to winning the game will be exposing Tennessee in the run game, which is a feat that few teams have shown success at. When Mizzou wins, it generally starts on the ground. Without that, the offense falls into too many third-and-long situations. The run game is required for success.
P.S. It may also be a good plan to incorporate both Luther Burden III and Dominic Lovett for the whole game, rather than picking and choosing each half. Mizzou will need all the firepower it can get.
Josh Matejka: It’ll have to be the same recipe Missouri has followed all season, one which hasn’t worked against the better teams in the SEC. Let the defense beat everyone up and hope the offense can scratch together enough points. The secondary will need to play the game of its collective life and the line needs to continue cashing in on the havoc it creates. If those things happen, Drinkwitz’s offense will have opportunities to score. Will they though? For the most part, the answer has been no.