Biggest game of the year?
Missouri needs this win to help get a step closer to an SEC title, it's the first time Tennessee will have a legitimate chance at beating a ranked opponent this season and a good measuring stick for seeing how close the Vols are in terms of competing for an SEC East title.
If Tennessee can pull off a win on Saturday it will have its first three-game winning streak since 2010, clinch a bowl berth and knock Missouri out of the East's top spot. Both teams are playing for different things but they both have something for which to play.
So yea, there's a lot on the line.
How did the Tigers become an SEC powerhouse?
Their first year in the conference they did as many thought they would...struggle. They did get wins over Kentucky and Tennessee but that was it.
A season later they had just one loss in the SEC regular slate, a 27-24 double-overtime loss to South Carolina. The 7-1 finish put them in the Atlanta and are now close to returning a year later.
Tennessee's running backs coach Robert Gillespie acknowledges the Tigers' success since to switching the toughest football conference in college football.
"They’ve done well adjusting to the SEC," Gillespie said. "It will be a great challenge but we’re excited about playing a good opponent."
Missouri's defense?The Missouri defense has been impressing all season and the Volunteer offense has scored an average of 47.5 points in the last two games, making this matchup even more exciting.
Missouri has only given up 13.5 points per game in last four contests. A majority of that came from a 34-27 win over Texas A&M last week. The most the Tigers have surrendered all season came from a 34-0 loss to Georgia. Of course the Mizzou offense is responsible for some of that. They tallied just 97 passing yards, went 0 for 7 on third-downs and turned the ball over five times.
Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian knows this will be the first defense to really challenge his team for four quarters since Alabama.
"These guys have a great defense," Bajakian said. "They are ranked among the top of the conference in many, if not all, statistical categories."
What makes Missouri's defense so good?
For as good of a defense as Missouri is they don't cause many turnovers. That excludes teams coached by Will Muschamp. The Tigers forced Florida into six turnovers in that 42-13 win and had two defensive scores to go with two special teams touchdowns.
Although the Tigers don't get gobs of turnovers, they have gotten one interception or fumble recovery in each of their wins during their current four-game winning streak. Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni says Missouri's defense doesn't try to do too much but what they do, they do well.
"Their defense is sound," Azzanni said. "They are probably one of the better coached teams that we see on field. They are very aggressive."
Azzanni pointed to the defensive ends that give offenses fits but also talked about the secondary that does well to match receivers in man coverage.
"Their ball-hawks they play together and play within their system," Azzanni said. "They're one of the best defenses will see all season."
What can Tennessee do to move the ball against Mizzou?"
Bajakian alluded to it after practice on Wednesday that this might be the best defense Joshua Dobbs has seen as starting quarterback for the Volunteers. The sophomore, who will be starting his third game of 2014 on Saturday, told reporters on Tuesday that he knows how tough of a challenge Missouri will present to him and his teammates on the offensive side of the ball. However, what Tennessee has been doing is working, so why fix it?
We're going to stick with the things we've been doing," Azzanni said. "We won't change our gameplan. We're not going to reinvent the wheel."
Whether they wanted to or not, some changes may be made for them. The wide receivers who were banged up are back and ready to go but starting center Mack Crowder may not be. That would put the snapping duties on Dylan Wiesman. Bajakian doesn't seem to be too concerned and believes Wiesman can get the job done at center.
"With Dylan he's got that area of toughness just like back in," Bajakian said."
A celebration is waiting at Neyland Stadium (and Between the Hedges) if the Volunteers can take down the 20th best team in the nation. The formula for that would be zero turnovers and 30+ points.
It worked for Indiana.
It worked for Georgia.
Can Tennessee do the same?
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