By: Josh Jessee
Junior Staff Writer
The All Vol Call in Show
The 13th ranked Vols and 14th ranked Tigers are set to face off in a highly anticipated football match up this Saturday in Columbia, Missouri. This late in the year match up could be a season defining game for both programs, as it holds SEC Championship implications. Both teams will enter this contest with a 7-2 record, tied for second place in the SEC East. Missouri has been one of the biggest surprises in college football to this point, and look to continue writing that story on Saturday. While Tennessee will enter the game looking to continue their recent momentum and get one step closer to a shot at Atlanta.
The strengths for both teams start on the offensive side of the ball with Tennessee and their cerebral rushing attack, something that Josh Heupel and company will look to establish early. The rushing offense of the Vols ranks third in the NCAA, while the rush defense of the Tigers ranks 24th in the country behind Texas A&M and Kentucky, two teams that Tennessee was able to run all over. On the other side of the field Missouri's ability to throw the football will be key to their offensive success as the Tigers rank 23rd in the NCAA in passing offense. They will be competing against a Tennessee secondary that ranks 54th in passing yards allowed.
The keys to this game for the Tigers will be winning at the line of scrimmage and stopping a very potent Tennessee rushing attack. Missouri will need to produce tackles for loss in the backfield, and bottle up the Vols running backs in an attempt to not give up explosive plays. A task easier said than done, but if the Tiger defense wants to have success in this match up they are going to want to force Joe Milton to beat them with his arm. Milton and the Volunteer offense currently only ranks 58th in the NCAA in passing offense. A much better gamble for Eli Drinkwitz and the Tigers defense than taking on the third best rushing offense in the NCAA that Tennessee possesses.
For the Vols the keys to victory are two fold starting first on offense Heupel and company are going to want to establish the line of scrimmage, something that Tennessee has been very good at doing to this point in the season. This will allow for the talent of Jaylen Wright, Dylan Sampson, and Jabari Small to be on full display. When the Vols are running the ball well the offense is clicking. The ability to establish a run game and establish it early is going to make life easier on Milton, by forcing the Tigers to sell out on the run and potentially leave receivers open down the field. On the defensive side of the ball the key to victory again starts on the line of scrimmage.
The defensive front seven of Tennessee is going to have to live in the back field of the Tigers. Missouri quarterback Brady Cook has been a problem for opposing defenses all season, lighting up secondaries across the league. This is definitely an area of concern for the Volunteers as this has been one of the weaker positions on the field this year. In order to have success in this match up the defensive front of Tennessee will need to wreak havoc in the backfield. Putting pressure on Cook and forcing him to make plays on the move or under pressure, this is vital in stopping the Tigers pass attack. The Vols definitely have the personnel in James Pearce Jr. and Tyler Baron to make Cook’s day a very long one.
This game will also feature a lot of talented players on both sides of the ball that are going to play a vital role in determining who comes out the winner. Starting with Missorui the four players to know before the game are: Brady Cook, Luther Burden, Ty’Ron Hopper, and Kris Abrams-Draine.The biggest name on this list is Burden, the sophomore wide receiver who to this point in the season has already amassed 958 receiving yards with seven touchdowns. Burden ranks third in the SEC amongst wide receivers and will draw plenty of attention from the Tennessee secondary.
Burden will look to exploit matchups and draw additional coverage to free up teammates down the field. Next is quarterback Brady Cook who to this point in the season has 2,471 passing yards and 16 passing touchdowns. Cook ranks fourth in the SEC at quarterback and if given time in the pocket will make the secondary’s day a long one. Hopper the leading tackler for the Tigers will be essential in leading the charge of stopping the run as well as applying pressure to Milton forcing hurried throws. Milton will have to build off passing game momentum from the previous weeks and find success through the air to help the Tennessee running game out. However, he will need to do this while avoiding the Missouri ball hawk Kris Abrams-Draine who leads the defense with four interceptions on the year.
The Volunteer players to know before the game are: Tyler Baron, Squirrel White, Deont’e Thornton, and Dylan Sampson. Baron, a senior on the defensive line currently holds five sacks and a total of 13 tackles. He will be tasked with leading the defense in applying pressure on Cook and force errand throws. Baron has been a key part of Tennessee’s ability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and will be needed this weekend. Every defense that the Vols face this year are going to put an emphasis on stopping the run, and forcing Milton to beat them with his arm.
This weekend will be no different but with the continued progression of the passing game look for two wide receivers to have a big game. White and Thornton both have the elusiveness and speed to hurt defense with yards after catch. If the Tigers go all in on stopping the run expect both of these guys to win their one on one match-ups, put up some impressive numbers, and come away with at least one receiving touchdown. The final player to watch for in this matchup truly is an x-factor. Look for Sampson to be in on some very critical plays in both the running and passing game.
Sampson is a massive weapon out of the backfield that gives Tennessee’s offense some flair. Going into Columbia, Sampson has 160 receiving yards, 405 rushing yards, and eight total touchdowns. The speed and most of all the elusiveness of Sampson makes him a nightmare for any defense. When he is in the game he continues to keep the chains moving for the offense and continues to help the Vols find ways to score and win ball games.