Success is defined by how you look at your accomplishments. On the one hand, Tennessee scored in three of its six trips to the red zone against Missouri's fifth-best defense in the country coming into the game Saturday. That can be considered a success against one of the best defenses in the SEC.
But after just one only one of those conversions was for a touchdown, and the Vols will now face one of the best red zone defenses in the country when they take on rival Vanderbilt in the regular season finale in Neyland Stadium Saturday. The Commodores boast the No. 2 red zone defense in the NCAA, allowing teams to convert their trips inside the 20-yard line just 68.29 percent of the time — good for No. 5 nationally and No. 2 in the SEC.
"When we do get the ball in the red zone, we have to come away with points," Butch Jones said at his weekly press conference. "I believe (Vanderbilt) made Texas A&M kick six field goals Saturday night. For us, it comes down to execution, whether it's running the right routes throughout the depths or running the football, it just comes down to execution."
Converting red zone trips into touchdowns will be a tough task. Vanderbilt has allowed opponents to score only 14 red zone touchdowns all year at a 34.15 percent clip. That's best in the SEC by nearly ten percentage points.
"Part of Vanderbilt being so succesful in the red zone is they're a very difficult defense to move the football methodically down the field," Jones said. "Eventually, they're so good that they're going to have a negative yardage football play. They're going ot generate a disruption. I think the longer the drive goes, the better they become, so it's just very hard to score on them."
Tennessee's red zone offense currently ranks eighth in the SEC. The Vols have punched in 29 touchdowns this season inside the 20-yard line, giving them a 55.77 percent red zone touchdown rate on the season.
Thomas the Tank
Coleman Thomas was rewarded for his and the offensive line's solid performance against Missouri by being named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week. The center oversaw the Vols' 248-yard rushing performance against a stout Mizzou front seven led by the nation's leading tackler, Kentrell Brothers.
Tennessee didn't relinquish a sack during the game and now have its most rushing yards in a season (2,351) since 2004 (2,418).
"Coleman continues to get better and better and better with the use of his hands," Butch Jones said. "There have been times when his base was widening and he was on the ground too much. He's worked hard on narrowing his base ... He works his craft every day and (has) that want to improve, and I think our older players have done a very good job of mentoring him and holding him accountable for the standards and the expectations we have."
Thomas has embodied the mentality of the offensive line this season as it fights through injuries. The sophomore has started all 11 games this season at two different positions.
Tennessee will honor 19 players Saturday for Senior Day, including starters such as safety Brian Randolph, left tackle Kyler Kerbyson and offensive lineman Mack Crowder.
"We'll get to recognize 19 seniors in our football family," Jones said. "Some that have been here longer than others, but they've meant so much to our program. They've been through a lot together, so it's very fitting that we would honor them moving forward as we continue to move the football program."
Hybrid linebacker/defensive end Curt Maggitt, who was lost for the season after suffering a bone chip in his hip in the Oklahoma game Sept. 19, will also be honored, despite potentially qualifiying for a medical redshirt.
"We will honor Curt Maggitt, and we'll have some decisions with fourth-year players and what they want to do for their fifth year," Jones said. "The way I look at it is the season is not over with. It kind of keeps everything in check. We have another game to play after this, and that's the great thing about it."
Tennessee and Vanderbilt will tee off for the 109th time Saturday, Tennessee's second-longest series of all time behind Kentucky (111). The Vols have beaten their in-state opponents 74 times in that span and are 37-11-1 against the Commodores in Knoxville.
Butch Jones' squad is looking to beat Vandy for the second straight season after dropping a heartbreaker 14-10 heartbreaker at home in his inaugural season with Tennessee.
"One of our core values on our team is beat our rivals," freshman linebacker Darrin Kirkland said. "It's a really big game for us."
The Vols have beaten Vandy more than any other opponent except Kentucky and are looking to further dominate a series that has been mostly one-sided since it began in 1906.