The Missouri Tigers are looking for their first win in the Eli Drinkwitz era and they will play their first road game under their new head coach. This will be a more manageable game to win, but not by much — as the 21st ranked Tennessee Volunteers will still present a stiff challenge for the Tigers. To break it all down, Terry Lambert from Rocky Top Talk joined us to discuss the match up for a Q and A conversation. Saturday’s kick-off is set for 11:00 a.m. CST on the SEC Network.
Here is Lambert’s insight on the Vols:
Sammy Stava: Last week, Tennessee gave head coach Jeremy Pruitt a contract extension through the 2025 season. Do you think that was the right decision to make at the time?
Terry Lambert: I actually do, some around the country were confused, considering it came after a season that saw Tennessee get beaten by Georgia State and BYU. But I think it says a lot about Tennessee’s culture in how they were able to pick themselves up and rebound to a 7-5 season. They ended up winning six straight to close the year, getting to a bowl and winning. Toss in a top ten recruiting class in 2020 and the makings of another one in 2021, and it’s tough not to see the progress that Jeremy Pruitt is making in Knoxville. Obviously, he was hired to go hang with and beat Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, but any rational fan understands that this roster just isn’t quite to that point. Progress is being made, so I don’t mind the renewed commitment.
SS: It looked like Tennessee and South Carolina was one of the best games on Saturday, as the Vols came away with a 31-27 road win. What did you think about the Volunteers’ overall performance last week?
TL: Encouraging and frustrating all at once. Tennessee was down a couple of key defensive starters due to COVID issues, so right off the bat this one was tougher than it should have been. It took about a quarter to settle in and make adjustments. It was a game that quite honestly Tennessee should have been able to put away, but quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was just too inconsistent with his accuracy to do so. That’s a common theme with this team — they’ll only be as good as Guarantano will let them be. At the end of the day they found a way to win and have plenty of room to improve, so all things considered, we’ll take it.
SS: Now that all teams are eligible for the AP Top 25 rankings, Tennessee dropped from 16th to 21st – even after a win. Is that about where you think they should be ranked right now?
TL: That’s plenty fair in my eyes. This is a group with some upside to them, but we haven’t seen them at full song just yet. If offensive lineman Cade Mays becomes eligible, maybe they deserve to be a little higher. I think Tennessee will eventually become a team that can play top-level defense and control the line of scrimmage offensively, but there are too many issues right now due to eligibility and COVID-19. Honestly, it’s tough to nail down where any team stands with all the unknowns, but I feel pretty confident that Tennessee has top 25 talent.
Note: Important update here....Cade Mays was just ruled eligible by the SEC on Wednesday night.
SS: Tennessee has now won seven games in a row dating back to last season, and the Volunteers are about 10 point favorites against Missouri. How do you see this game playing out on Saturday?
TL: It’s a game that Tennessee should win and for the first time in a long time, I think Volunteer fans are gaining a little confidence. Tennessee is entering year two under both coordinators and year three under Pruitt, so there’s plenty of continuity to go around. I think that matters this season especially. I would expect the Vols to win this one by two scores.
SS: What are your main expectations for Tennessee this season? Do you have a prediction for their final record when the season is all said and done?
TL: I said 6-4 on the record and I’ll stick with that. They’re likely not ready to go hang with Alabama or even Florida, but they catch Georgia at a good time next week, and should be able to play with Texas A&M and Auburn. Maybe they can make a push for as many as seven wins, but I think they’re too limited under center to do much more.