The Tennessee Volunteers (5-5, 2-4 SEC) are set to take on the Missouri Tigers (8-2, 5-1 SEC) this Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPN.
This will mark the third all-time meeting between the two teams, with Missouri leading the series 2-0.
Last Saturday the Vols routed the Kentucky Wildcats 50-16, keeping their bowl chances alive with two games remaining.
Quarterback Josh Dobbs threw for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns, finding Von Pearson for the first two scores and Jason Croom down the seam on a 52-yard touchdown to begin the second half. The sophomore signal caller also ran for 48 yards and another touchdown.
Freshman running back Jalen Hurd proved to be efficient as well, rushing for 118 yards and a touchdown of his own.
The unit that benefited most from the bye week, however, was the defense.
Tennessee held the Kentucky offense to only 262 yards. Brian Randolph picked off Reese Phillips early in the first quarter and returned it for a touchdown. Justin Coleman added another interception for the Vols, mainly due to a Tennessee pass rush that was quick off the edge in tallying five sacks and multiple hurries.
However, the defense will be without cornerback Michael Williams and All-SEC linebacker AJ Johnson this week. Both players were suspended on Monday from all team activities after being named suspects in a sexual assault case stemming from a Sunday morning incident.
Head coach Butch Jones commented on the situation, saying that he wants to make the right decision with the accused players.
“I want to make sure everyone knows this, that I am aware of the alleged incident that occurred over this weekend. Right now we are in the process of gathering all the information. Once we have that appropriate information we will act in a very decisive manner which we have proven over time to do here at the University of Tennessee. That is all I will comment on that situation.”
All signs are pointing to freshman Jakob Johnson taking AJ Johnson’s spot in the starting role. While a bit hesitant, Jones had high praise for the newcomer.
“(He’s a) work in progress,” Jones said at his Monday press conference. “Putting in the extra time of film study, we knew it would be a developmental process. But what we saw on video was basically what we see every day. Very, very athletic, very tough, very physical, working on his instincts, working on just the overall knowledge of the game and all the checks and the multitude of checks. In this conference there is so many differences in offenses that you have to prepare for week in and week out. The different dynamics, the different skillets of players that you have to prepare for. He has done a very good job of that.”
The Vols will also be without starting center Mack Crowder. Crowder left midway through the Kentucky game with injuries to his knee and ankle. This is troublesome for a Tennessee offensive line that has surrendered the most sacks in the conference.
The Tigers have 34 sacks on the season, the most in the SEC. Down a starting offensive linemen, the Vols will likely struggle against a stout Missouri pass rush.
The Tigers come in on a four-game win streak, having beaten four different SEC opponents through that span. With a win, Missouri moves one step closer to the SEC championship.
Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel is simply focused on the Vols this week.
“Tennessee is a very good football team,” Pinkel said on Monday. “They’re playing well. They’ve had two back-to-back big wins for them. (Butch Jones) is doing a great job building that football program and we certainly have some challenges. We’re working hard to improve, and I think we’re getting a little better each week. This is another great environment we’re playing in (Neyland Stadium). I’ve got great respect for their fans and that game day environment. It’s a great opportunity to play in another 100,000 seat stadium.”
With a Tennessee win, it would be the Vols’ first victory over Missouri. More importantly, it would make Tennessee bowl eligible.
Butch Jones has made it clear that the Vols are taking the season one game at a time.
“If we just have the goal of being the best football team we can possibly be, that takes care of itself,” Jones said. “We can control what we can control. That’s our effort, that’s our energy, that’s our preparation, that’s our discipline, our overall discipline to execute, and we have to stay focused on the task at hand.”
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