GAME NOTES: The red-hot Missouri Tigers will attempt to continue their winning
ways on Saturday night when they travel to Neyland Stadium to take on the
Tennessee Volunteers in an SEC clash.
Missouri pieced together an outstanding 34-27 come-from-behind victory at
Texas A&M last Saturday for its fourth consecutive win. The Tigers are 8-2
overall, and at 5-1 in the SEC, they control their own destiny in the race for
the SEC Eastern Division crown.
“I’m really proud of our football team. That’s probably an understatement,”
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “It went down to the end, and that’s what
happens when two good teams play. I felt we made some plays at the end,
fortunately, to win the football game.”
As for Tennessee, it has turned things around of late with two straight
victories over South Carolina (45-42 in OT) and Kentucky (50-16) to climb
back to .500 at 5-5 overall. The Vols, who had lost five of six prior to their
two-game winning streak, are 2-4 in SEC play, and they haven’t won three games
in league play since 2010.
“We challenged (our team)…Everything is about your mental effort, your
mental intensity (and) being prepared,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.
“It’s a young football team, but this football team’s different. Their whole
mindset’s different…We’re building something special here. We’ve got a long
way to go, but I’m proud of our players.”
Missouri has downed Tennessee in both previous meetings, claiming a 51-48
four-overtime thriller in 2012 and winning 31-3 last season.
The Tigers are fresh off one of their best offensive performances of the
season, beating the high-octane Aggies at their own game with 587 yards. On
the season, the unit has been underwhelming by SEC standards with 29.2 ppg and
Russell Hansbrough was the catalyst in last week’s victory with 199 yards and
a pair of 40-plus yard touchdowns in the momentum-shifting third quarter. He
now sits with 790 yards and nine scores on the season.
Maty Mauk has been inconsistent under center, as he’s completing less than 53
percent of his passes for 178.4 ypg, but he has nonetheless pieced together
an impressive touchdown (19) to interception (10) ratio.
Marcus Murphy is one of the nation’s most explosive all-purpose threats. He
does most of his damage rushing (128 carries, 607 yards, TD), but he’s also
utilized as a pass-catcher (20 receptions, 143 yards, TD) and is a game-
changing return man both with punts (274 yards, TD) and kickoffs (362 yards,
Other weapons at Mauk’s disposal include Bud Sasser (52 receptions, 701 yards,
eight TDs), Jimmie Hunt (26 receptions, 362 yards, five TDs) and Darius White
(23 receptions, 294 yards, four TDs).
The main reason Missouri has been able to rise to the top of the pack in the
SEC East has been the outstanding play of its defense (20.1 ppg, 340.7 ypg),
which had a crucial goal-line stand last week to secure the victory over Texas
Shane Ray is one of the nation’s elite pass rushers with 18.0 TFL and 13.0
sacks to go with two forced fumbles and a blocked kick. Michael Scherer (88
tackles) and Kentrell Brothers (85 tackles, 5.0 TFL) have both racked up the
stops at linebacker, while Braylon Webb (51 tackles, four INTs) and Markus
Golden (54 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks) are also having great seasons.
Tennessee’s offense hasn’t been very potent this season, putting up just 28.6
ppg and 381.5 ypg, but it enjoyed plenty of success in its blowout of Kentucky
last week with a season-high 50 points and 511 yards.
Joshua Dobbs was outstanding in the win, completing 19-of-27 passes for 297
yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions while adding solid rushing
totals (48 yards, TD). Dobbs (790 passing yards, 289 rushing yards, 11 TDs,
two INTs) has given the offense new life in two starts filling in for an
injured Justin Worley and expects to hang onto the job even when Worley is
healthy enough to suit up.
True freshman tailback Jalen Hurd (716 yards, three TDs) is starting to find
his stride late in the season, as he’s rushed for at least 118 yards in back-
Alton Howard leads the receiving corps in both catches (44) and yards (444),
but six others have at least 18 receptions in balanced group of pass-catchers.
The Vols’ improvement this season can be largely attributed to a maturing
defense, which allows just 24.1 ppg and 363.7 ypg, and the unit allowed a mere
262 yards a week ago while forcing two turnovers.
A.J. Johnson was destined for an All-SEC selection at linebacker at year’s end
with 101 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles and
a blocked kick, but he has been suspended indefinitely. Derek Barnett (18.0
TFL, 9.0 sacks) and Curt Maggitt (11.0 TFL, 8.0 sacks) anchor an outstanding
pass rush, while Justin Coleman, Cameron Sutton and Todd Kelly Jr. all have
Tennessee is getting better every week, and with its home crowd at its back in
this one, an upset certainly isn’t out of the question. However, Missouri has
been playing just as well and has a lot more on the line as it closes in on
its second straight SEC Championship Game. It won’t be easy, but the Tigers
will find a way.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Missouri 31, Tennessee 27