On Saturday (11:21 A.M., SEC Network), the Missouri Tigers (4-5, 1-5) travel to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers (4-5, 0-5) in SEC action. The Vols are coming off of a 55-48 home win over Troy.
"Tennessee is a very good football team," said Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel. "They're a very, very impressive football team. Their QB is talented, and they have great receivers."
Tennessee runs a multiple, up-tempo offense that is producing 485.1 yards, and 36.8 points, per game.
"Tennessee is running the I-formation around pro sets," continued Coach Pinkel. "They spread out, they do multiple things. They've got a great offensive line, and good running backs. They pull in their receivers and TBs sometimes. They do a lot of different things. Their QB is very impressive throwing (the football). He's got great accuracy, he can extend the play, and he can get rid of the football. He's a very impressive player. It'll be different because they actually get the ball down field. They put up a lot of yards and a lot of points against a lot of people."
The Volunteers comes into this game against Missouri with the top passing offense in the SEC, averaging 323.1 passing yards/game, which also ranks 12th nationally. The trigger man is junior QB Tyler Bray 6'6" 215, who has an NFL-caliber arm, and some impressive statistics to back it up. For the season, Bray is completing 59.9% of his pass attempts, and he is averaging an impressive 8.42 yards/pass attempt. Through 9 games, Bray has thrown for 2812 yards and 25 TDs. His passer efficiency rating is 149.31. He doesn't run the football, and he has been sacked just 4 times all season.
A slightly surprising statistic is that the Vols have actually run the football 47% of the time. They average 4.7 yards/rushing attempt.
A pair of talented TBs, in junior Rajion Neal 5'11" 211 and sophomore Marlin Lane 5'11" 205, lead the Vols' rushing attack. Neal has 119 carries for 532 yards (4.5 yards/carry) and 5 TDs, while Lane has 86 carries for 428 yards (5.0 yards/carry) and 2 TDs. On the season, Neal also has 7 receptions for 139 yards and 3 TDs, while Lane has 9 receptions for 169 yards.
"We understand that we're playing a great quarterback," explained Coach Pinkel, talking about Tennessee's Bray. "I've been very, very impressed with Tennessee offensively, and Bray in particular. I think he's been very well-coached, and he just presents a lot of problems for us. And, they also have a couple of great receivers."
The "couple of great receivers" to which Coach Pinkel referred are a pair of juniors, in WR Justin Hunter 6'4" 200, who has 56 receptions for 838 yards (15.0 yards/reception) and 7 TDs, and WR Cordarrelle Patterson 6'3" 205, who has 36 receptions for 585 yards (16.2 yards/reception) and 4 TDs. Patterson is also one of the nation's most prolific kickoff return men, with a 33.1 yards/return average and a 98-yard TD to his credit. Patterson (CP) is just learning how to play receiver, but he is dynamite with the ball in his hands! It goes without saying that Hunter and Patterson are Bray's favorite targets. The three juniors, Bray, Hunter, and Patterson are all expected by many to go high in next spring's NFL Draft.
"To see someone that fast stop on a dime and change direction, and then accelerate back to the same speed," began Tennessee TB Marlin Lane, shaking his head as he spoke of Cordarrelle Patterson. "I think he is probably one of the best open field runners in college football. If someone tries to tackle him one-on-one, I don't think it is going to happen."
In addition to Hunter and Patterson, Bray also has senior WR Zack Rodgers 6'0" 172 (25 receptions, 417 yards, 5 TDs) and senior TE Mychal Rivera 6'3" 244 (20 receptions, 356 yards, 3 TDs) as capable targets.
Tennessee's starting offensive line is huge, averaging 6'5" and 319 pounds.
"Bray's a great player," said Coach Pinkel. "And, they have probably the best tandem of receivers in our league. They have a real good scheme and system in place. They like throwing the ball. They're good at it. You know, they run the ball, too. But certainly, they've got a guy that can throw it well, and people that can catch it. That's the way they lean direction-wise. And that's served them well. The yards and points they've put up have been staggering."
As prolific as Tennessee has been offensively, they're just as inept on defense. The Volunteers rank last in the SEC, and 112th in the NCAA, in total defense (483.11 yards/game). Again, Tennessee is last in the SEC, and 107th in the NCAA, in scoring defense (35.4 points/game). The Vols are last in the SEC in passing defense (115th in NCAA), surrendering 296.8 passing yards/game, and they're second to last in the conference in rushing defense (90th in NCAA), giving up 186.3 rushing yards/game.
Tennessee lists a three-man defensive front, with a 6'8" 377-pound nose guard in junior Daniel McCullers anchoring the middle. But as I watch Tennessee, most of the time they line up in a 4-3, or a 4-2-5. Like many SEC teams, the Vols list a Jack (Buck, Spur, etc.), who is essentially a defensive end listed on the program as a LB.
I expect to see the Vols play a lot of nickel or dime against Missouri, with four down linemen and probably a pair of linebackers on the field.
On defense, Tennessee has real good size all over the field, and they look the part of SEC-caliber athletes. But obviously, they haven't played very well as a unit. When I watch them, they don't appear to get much pressure on the QB, unless they blitz, which they do quite a bit, especially inside their own 30-yard line. For a team with pretty good speed, they give up the edge in the run game too often, and they just don't tackle very well in the open field.
"Tennessee is a heavy pressure team in the red-zone," explained Missouri Offensive Coordinator David Yost. "They're probably the heaviest blitz team in the red zone that we've faced. I mean, they will bring six or seven guys in the red zone area once you get really inside the 30-yard line."
Coach Yost said that Tennessee might use more 30 blitzes (3 man front) on third down, especially since Florida had some success with the 30 blitz on third down. I think we will probably see the three man front accompanied by a sixth DB in some obvious passing situations.
Earlier this week, Tennessee Head Coach Derek Dooley announced that he was getting more involved in coaching the defense, and that they are making some changes in the way that the Vols are going to play defense, so it's a bit of an unknown exactly what Tennessee will be attempting to do on defense.
"We haven't been getting much pressure on the quarterback," explained Coach Dooley. "And, that's caused a lot of problems as the down gets stretched out. And, we haven't been winning some of those one-on-one match-ups with the teams we've been playing. Our biggest thing is we've got to get more eyes to the football, and less eyes on our guys, so when the ball does come out, there's more hats around the ball, so that we don't just have these gutted plays."
"We've made some significant changes (this week) that I hope will show up on game day," said Coach Dooley, talking about his increased focus on the Tennessee defense this week.
"This is obviously an important game for us," said Coach Dooley, speaking of playing Missouri. "There is a lot at stake. We are trying to get our first SEC win, and we have played well in this league but haven't gotten the W. We are playing a team who is really playing well now."
[NCAA Ranking in Brackets]
MISSOURI___________________TENNESSEE 319.33 [109th]_ _ Total Offense___ 485.11 [18th] 125.00 [98th]___Rushing Offense__ 162.00 [62nd] 11___________TDs Rushing__________ 14 194.33 [97th]___Passing Offense_ _ 323.11 [12th] 101.24 [116th]_ Passing Efficiency__ 148.68 [30th] 7____________TDs Passing__________ 26 22.44 [94th]____Scoring Offense__ 36.78 [T-24th] 327.56 [22nd]___ Total Defense__ 483.11 [112th] 142.00 [42nd]__ Rushing Defense__ 186.33 [90th] 16________ TDs Allowed Rushing________ 20 185.56 [15th]___Passing Defense_ 296.78 [115th] 127.08 [54th]__ Pass Effic. Defense_ 139.84 [91st] 10________ TDs Allowed Passing________ 18 22.56 [38th]____Scoring Defense__ 35.44 [107th] +0.33 [40th]__ Turnover Margin___–0.44 [85th] 20 / 6_ ______ Fumbles/Lost_______ 11 / 7 11________ Interceptions Thrown________ 11 5_________ Interceptions Gained________ 10 25.36 [19th]___Kickoff Return Avg._ _ 21.60 [61st] 16.35 [6th]____ Punt Return Avg.____7.56 [76th] 34.19 [109th]__ Net Punting Avg.___ 35.77 [83rd] 2.11 [52nd]______Sacks By______1.33 [97th] 2.56 [90th]_____ Sacks Allowed_____ 0.44 [2nd] 29:20 [78th]___ Avg. Time of Poss.__ 26:57 [112th] 32.4% [113th]___3rd Down Conv.__ 40.2% [60th] 29.4% [T-109th]__4th Down Conv._ 53.9% [T-55th]