Each week, the two Sports Editors and football beat writers, Josh Lane and Ethan Stone, give their keys and predictions for Tennessee’s upcoming matchup.
Let’s talk Tennessee versus Mizzou.
1. Contain Tyler Badie
Mizzou’s offense lives and dies by its running back Tyler Badie. So far, the Tigers have mostly lived by Badie -- he leads an offense averaging 38.75 points per game, near the top of the SEC.
Badie has rushed for 5 touchdowns in four games and caught another 3 scores. He is averaging over 100 rushing yards per game and has two touchdowns in 3 of 4 games. Badie will definitely challenge Tennessee’s run defense that was exposed a little last week by Emory Jones and Florida.
I don’t think Tennessee’s defense will be able to totally shut Badie down, but limiting him to about 70-80 rushing yards and just one touchdown might be enough to do it.
2. Take the pressure off the quarterback
Tennessee has yet to catch a break in the quarterback room this season. In the latest chapter, Hendon Hooker -- who was playing well in relief of Joe Milton III -- was injured in the Florida game. Josh Heupel has said that it will essentially be a game-time decision by the medical staff as to who starts, since both signal callers aren’t 100% healthy at the moment.
The Vols need to do everything they can to protect their quarterback and keep the pressure off them. From dominating in the run game -- which should be an easy task against one of the worst run defenses in the country -- to simply protecting the quarterback at the line of scrimmage -- a taller task given Tennessee’s offensive line is dealing with a plethora of injuries itself.
Simply put, Tennessee’s quarterback, whoever it is, should not be the star of the show tomorrow. The Vols need another position group -- whether it's the running backs or offensive line -- to shoulder the load.
1. Pressure Connor Bazelak
Connor Bazelak is a quarterback the Vols are going to have to respect. The redshirt sophomore will be starting his 17th game for the Tigers this week, and already has more touchdowns than he did last year -- five games in.
His struggles are certainly there, but Bazelak has more than enough talent to lead the Tigers to victory this week. The Vols simply cannot afford to allow him time to pick the struggling Tennessee secondary apart.
Missouri’s offense is the real deal, and it all starts with Bazelak. The Tigers average almost 39 points per game so far this season, good enough for 21st in FBS.
2. Exploit the Tigers’ shaky run defense
The offense may be the real deal, but the defense is not. The Tigers have allowed 1,075 yards of rushing through four games which is good enough for second worst in the nation. For reference, the Vols have only allowed 446 rushing yards to higher tier opponents such as Pitt and Florida opposed to Missouri’s two best opponents in Kentucky and Boston College. Southeast Missouri State rushed for almost 300 yards against the Tigers.
Spin it how you wish, these numbers are not good. Tiyon Evans and Jabari Small are poised for a massive day in Columbia, and Evans knows it.
“We’re gonna have some fun.” Evans said regarding Mizzou’s defense.
There’s a difference between saying and showing however. Tennessee will need to take care of business Saturday against this glaring mismatch.
Split: Missouri -3
Both teams are looking for their first conference win following a disappointing loss. I see Mizzou fighting hard in its SEC home-opener and putting up some points with that offense, but I think Tennessee is the better team.
Despite being the underdog coming into the game, Tennessee goes into Columbia, dominates the line of scrimmage, and leaves with its first SEC win of the season. And a bold prediction: Tennessee’s quarterback play won’t be an issue.
Tennessee 27, Missouri 24
Plenty of points are going to be scored on Saturday. I’d be shocked if this game does not hit the over, and that whittles down to Missouri’s refusal to play defense and Tennessee’s preference to play fast and score a lot of points.
Well, It will be fast --I’ll say that much. The one thing Missouri has been proficient at this year is forcing turnovers, so it will be interesting to see how the Vols can adjust tempo to keep their defense fresh and energized if that comes to fruition. Ultimately, I believe Tennessee’s up-tempo offense will stump the Tigers in Columbia.
Tennessee, 38 Missouri 31