The Missouri Tigers and the Tennessee Volunteers will both try to salvage sub par seasons by moving to .500 when the two meet in an SEC showdown in Knoxville on Saturday.
Missouri’s inaugural season in the SEC has not been a memorable one, with its only conference win in six tries coming against last-place Kentucky on Oct. 27 (33-10). The Tigers put together one of their best defensive efforts of the season on the road last week against nationally-ranked Florida, but the offense could not take advantage as they lost, 14-7.
The Volunteers have been one of the few teams in the conference who have played worse than Missouri, as they are still winless in the SEC on the season despite having four wins overall. By defeating Troy in a 55-48 shootout last week, they continued their dominance outside the league, winning their 10th straight regular-season game against a non-conference foe dating back to September of 2010.
This bout marks the first meeting between these two programs on the football field.
Missouri owns the 12th-ranked offense in the SEC both in terms of scoring (22.4 ppg) and yards (319.3 ypg), and it proved why last week against Florida by scoring just seven points and turning the ball over four times.
Quarterback James Franklin had missed two games this season and parts of several others due to nagging injuries, but the good news for the Tigers is that he played the entire game last week. The bad news is he had the worst game of his career, completing just 24-of-51 passes for 236 yards with zero touchdowns and four picks. Injuries aside, his on-field production this season (.575 completion percentage, 1,057 yards, four TDs, six INTs) has been a clear step backwards from a sophomore season where he threw for 21 TDs.
Kendial Lawrence (666 yards, eight TDs) has been rock solid in the Mizzou backfield, recording three games with at least 100 yards rushing. Although he scored last week, his 34 yards rushing marked his lowest output of the season.
The sub par play under center hasn’t helped the receivers much, as no player averages more than 40 receiving yards per game. Marcus Lucas (34 receptions, 355 yards, two TDs) leads the team in all major receiving categories, and highly-touted freshman Dorial Green-Beckham has come on recently with 13 receptions in the past two games.
It’s safe to say that the play of the defense (22.6 ppg, 327.6 ypg) has not been the reason for Missouri’s struggles. On the road last week, it held Florida to just 276 yards, and on the season it limits opponents to just 28 percent success on third-down conversion attempts.
Not only are Will Ebner and Sheldon Richardson the team’s leading tacklers with 63 stops each, they also do plenty of damage behind the line of scrimmage with 19.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, and four forced fumble between them. The Tigers rank near the bottom of the conference in interceptions (five), but they have made up for it with 15 fumble recoveries.
Tennessee is fresh off an explosive offensive performance against Troy, putting up 55 points and a school-record 718 yards of total offense, which only adds to an already stellar season for the unit (36.8 ppg, 485.1 ypg).
Tyler Bray made history last week by throwing for 530 yards, which broke the school record previously held by Peyton Manning. The signal-caller is the league’s best both in terms of yards (2,812) and touchdowns (25), and he’s been especially great of late, throwing for nine touchdowns against only one interception in the past two games.
Bray has serious weapons at his disposal, with Justin Hunter (56 receptions, 838 yards, seven TDs) and Cordarrelle Patterson (36 receptions, 585 yards, four TDs) both putting together outstanding seasons. The two are coming off an astounding 400 combined yards and four touchdowns last week alone. Not to be lost in the shuffle are Zach Rodgers (417 yards, five TDs) and Mychal Rivera (356 yards, three TDs), who have proven to be more than reliable.
Rajion Neal (532 yards, five TDs) returned to the backfield last week after missing two games with an injury, but Marlin Lane (428 yards, two TDs) was the standout in the win with 19 carries for 132 yards and his only two touchdowns of the year.
Although the offense has been outstanding at times, the defense has been nothing short of terrible, as it is the worst-ranked unit in the SEC (35.4 ppg, 483.1 ypg). Tennessee’s defense hit new lows against Troy last week, allowing a program-worst 721 yards while permitting 38 points or more for the fifth straight week.
A.J. Johnson has been one of the top tacklers in the nation this year, racking up 101 stops. Byron Moore is also having an All-SEC type season with four interceptions. Darrington Sentimore leads the team with four sacks.