On Saturday (6:00 P.M., ESPN), the #9 Missouri Tigers (7-1, 3-1) play host to the Tennessee Volunteers (4-4, 1-3) in SEC action. Missouri is coming off of their first loss of the season, 24-27 in double overtime to South Carolina. Tennessee is coming off of a 10-45 pounding at Alabama.
"(Tennessee is) a good football team," said Missouri head Coach Gary Pinkel. "You know, they beat South Carolina two weeks ago. They played a great Alabama team. They'll probably play both of their quarterbacks, I expect. Their running backs are good. Their offensive line is good. They have young receivers, but they're athletic. Their defense runs well, and they've got a great linebacker in there. And they've got an athletic secondary. It's this league. It's the great thing about being in it. Every week you play a great football team. And we're excited about doing that."
First-year Tennessee Head Coach Butch Jones has an improving Volunteer team that is playing one of the toughest schedules in the country. In other words, Tennessee is a lot better than their record would suggest. Still, Tennessee has not won on the road this year, losing to ranked teams in each of their three road games so far this season.
Coach Jones has a team that is built for success in the SEC, with the strength of the Vols being up front on offense, and in the front seven defensively. That's where the Vols have veteran, experienced players on both sides of the football. They're younger on the back end of their defense, and young at QB and receiver. Still, Tennessee recruits very well, and those young players are very talented.
At 27.9 points/game, Tennessee ranks 11th in the SEC in scoring. The Vols are 10th in the conference in scoring defense, at 29.2 points/game.
Tennessee would like to run the football, although they have been pretty well balanced offensively. Thus far, the Vols have run the football on 57% of their offensive plays. They're only converting 38% of their third downs, but they've been pretty effective in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on 65% of their forays inside the 20-yard line.
The Vols will be without their starting QB, Justin Worley, who came out of the Alabama game after re-injuring the thumb on his throwing hand. He has since undergone surgery to repair a damaged ligament, and is unavailable this week. When Worley was forced to leave the Alabama game, Coach Jones had to pull the red-shirt off of 6'3" 193-pound true freshman Joshua Dobbs. In relief at Alabama, Dobbs was 5-12-0 (42%) for 75 yards passing. He also ran three times for 19 yards, and Coach Jones indicated that the very talented Dobbs does bring a running dimension to the QB position.
"He brings another element in terms of running," said Coach Jones, talking about Dobbs. "With him as our quarterback, you may see more quarterback run………………………………………….. He's extremely bright. He's competitive, so we don't have to scale down the playbook one bit with him…………………………………………. It's more execution, playing to whoever our quarterback is, playing to their strengths. If it's running the quarterback more, if it's more deep balls, if it's more 15-yard throws, if it's more break-contain and sprint-outs, that's going to be the big thing. We always talk about playing to the strengths of whoever the quarterback is."
"For a young man, a true freshman coming in that environment against that type of opponent, I thought he was poised," Coach Jones said of Dobbs. "He was calm, he was disciplined, he was able to get us in the right plays offensively and he had a command about himself." Dobbs is a true dual-threat, and the 15th true freshman to have played for Tennessee this season, which is the third most true freshmen to have played for any team in the FBS this season. "I think (Dobbs) looks really good," said Coach Pinkel. "I think he's fundamentally good with his delivery. I was very impressed with how he played in the 2nd half (at Alabama)…………………………………………… The thing (about Dobbs) that I was real impressed with is his poise." Expect to see Tennessee lean more heavily on their running game, with Dobbs and 5'11" 212-pound senior TB Rajion Neal, who has rushed for 763 yards and 9 TDs on 145 carries (5.3 yards/carry). Neal is also the Vols' third-leading receiver, with 17 receptions for 76 yards. And Neal's back-up, 5'11" 205-pound junior TB Marlin Lane has 63 carries for 360 yards (5.7 yards/carry) and 4 TDs.
Tennessee's young receiving corps is headlined by 6'4" 215-pound freshman WR Marquez North (25 receptions for 368 yards and 1 TD), 5'8" 185-pound sophomore WR Pig Howard (25 receptions for 255 yards and 3 TDs), 6'1' 193-pound freshman WR Josh Smith (11 receptions for 173 yards and 1 TD), 6'5' 223-pound freshman WR Jason Croom (11 receptions for 145 yards and 1 TD), and 6'5" 248-pound junior TE Brendan Downs (10 receptions for 62 yards and 2 TDs).
Tennessee has four seniors and a junior, who average 6'4" and 312 pounds, along the offensive line. They've been very good in pass protection, surrendering just 8 sacks this season. Tennessee has a ball-hawking defense, as the Vols rank second in the conference in interceptions (12) and total turnovers forced (18). It appears that forcing turnovers is a trait of teams coached by Butch Jones. As a result of their ability to force turnovers, Tennessee is tied for 4th in the SEC in turnover margin (+3 on the season, +0.38/game), and ranks 3rd in the conference in points off of turnovers (6.00 points/game). Tennessee is the least penalized team in the league.
Tennessee's defense is anchored by one of the better LBs in the country in 6'3" 243-pound junior MLB A.J. Johnson, who leads the team and is 4th in the conference with 65 total tackles. He also has 4.5 tackles-for-loss, 3 QB hurries, and 2 pass-break-ups. He's a very physical force in the middle for the Vols.
Johnson is joined in the starting line-up by a pair of senior LBs in 6'2" 227-pound Dontavis Sapp (43 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 3 QBHs, 3 PBUs, 1 forced fumble, and 2 fumble recoveries), and 6'1" 221-pound Brent Brewer (19 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 3 QBHs, 2 PBUs, 2 INTs, 1 forced fumble).
The Vols' defensive front is deep and talented. Tennessee plays at least 8 different defensive linemen in a regular rotation, and they're getting production from all of them. The most noticeable guy up front for the Vols is 6'8" 351-pound senior DT Daniel McCullers, who has 24 tackles on the season, including 4.5 TFLs, and 0.5 sacks. He's also been credited with 4 QBHs, 1 PBU, and a fumble recovery.
Right behind McCullers in production is 6'3" 265-pound senior DE Corey Miller, with 21 tackles, 2 TFLs, 2 sacks, 3 QBHs, and 1 PBU. Miller's back-up, 6'2" 272-pound 5th-year senior DE Marlon Walls has 18 total tackles on the season, and he leads Tennessee with 6.5 TFLs, and 4.5 sacks. He's also been credited with 2 QBHs, and a forced fumble.
On the back end, the Vols aren't as experienced, but they're at least as talented. Three true freshmen have played extensively in the secondary for Tennessee this season, and two of them have returned interceptions for touchdowns.
Coach Jones is getting good production from several DBs, including 6'0" 199-pound sophomore SS Brian Randolph (48 tackles, 2 TFLs, 3 INTs, 1 PBU), 6'1" 199-pound sophomore FS LaDarrell McNeil (36 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBUs), 5'10" 184-pound junior corner Justin Coleman (30 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 5 PBUs), 5'10" 184-pound junior nickel back JaRon Toney (28 tackles, 3 QBHs), and 6'1" 180-pound freshman corner Cameron Sutton (25 tackles, 2 TFLs, 2 INTs, 5 PBUs, 2 fumble recoveries).
Tennessee has one of the best combination kicker/punters in the country, in 5'11" 185-pound Michael Palardy. Have-leg-will-travel handles all of the Vols' kicking and punting duties, and he's one of the best in the conference at either job.
In less than a year, Coach Jones has brought about tangible improvement in the Tennessee football program. It's obvious that he's on the right track, and with Tennessee's fan base and resources, he'll have the Vols back in the conference picture before long. Dobbs is just a freshman, but it's possible, even likely, that he was going to be the Vols' QB of the future anyway. He's very talented, and although he's being thrown in ahead of schedule, he brings a lot of ability to the position.
Tennessee is talented, and Coach Jones has the Vols playing disciplined, physical football.
(NCAA Ranking in Parentheses)
499.8 (16)____Total Offense_______ 362.3 (96)
224.5 (19)___Rushing Offense___ __192.4 (41)
275.3 (31)___ Passing Offense_____ 169.9 (110)
150.40 (23)___Pass Efficiency_____ 107.33 (110)
41.8 (12)____ Scoring Offense_____ 27.9 (T-72)
395.6 (66)____ Total Defense______ 420.3 (83)
111.4 (16)____Rushing Defense____ 184.5 (85)
284.3 (112)_Passing Yds. Allowed__ 235.8 (70)
121.43 (41)___Pass Effic. Def. _____ 122.54 (49)
22.8 (T-36)___Scoring Defense______ 29.3 (78)
1.5 (T-3)_____Turnover Margin_____ 0.4 (T-41)
0.457 (39)___3rd Down Conv. Pct____0.377 (82)
0.667 (T-16)_4th Down Conv. Pct___ 0.714 (T-10)
0.355 (34)___ 3rd Conv Pct.Def. _____ 0.429 (93)
0.833 (T-61)__Red Zone Offense_____ 0.853 (51)
0.862 (T-83)__ Red Zone Defense____ 0.743 (22)
35.32 (97)_______Net Punting_______ 38.98 (27)
4.67 (102)______ Punt Returns______ 10.10 (45)
22.60 (46)_____Kickoff Returns______24.12 (26)
205 (T-13)___First Downs Offense____ 150 (83)
170 (T-91)___First Downs Defense____ 168 (88)
5.38 (T-43)__Fewest Penalties / Gm. __4.25 (T-16)
30:09 (51)____ Time of Possession____ 28:52 (82)