This Missouri Tigers football team...it's not good.
Saturday's matchup really doesn't excite me at all. And I say this as a Missouri alum (the journalism school there is good.)
And I say this game doesn't excite me because this team was at the top of the SEC East just two years ago. Missouri used to dominate this series. Even when the team was in a state of mediocrity in 2012, they did well against the Vols because Tennessee wasn't exactly playing its best football either.
Butch Jones made a point Monday that the Tigers are second in the SEC in total offense, though that number may be inflated due to some of the non-conference opponents they played (see the ridiculous numbers they put up against Delaware State, Eastern Michigan, and MTSU, then get back to me.)
"Drew Lock is an NFL quarterback," Jones said of Missouri's gunslinger. "And he can make all of the throws. You can see he is becoming more comfortable with all of their run pass options."
Yes, sophomore quarterback Drew Lock has shown flashes of brilliance, but has played a weak schedule. By comparison, LSU and Florida held him to zero touchdowns, and two interceptions. Tennessee could present more of a challenge to Lock than a Vanderbilt or Eastern Michigan.
Running back Damarea Crockett, a true freshman, is ninth in the conference in rushing yards. He's a difference maker on offense, and could pose some trouble to a Vols' defense that's been depleted over time.
Look out for defensive end Charles Harris on defense. He’s Missouri's Derek Barnett of sorts, racking up eight sacks so far this season. He's the latest in a long line of defensive lineman who have graduated to the NFL (playfully dubbed "D-Line Zou").
Jones made a reference to Harris and the "talented defensive front" at his Monday news conference.
"One of the most talented defensive ends we will face all year," Jones said of Harris. "He will be a high-round draft pick in this year's draft."
Injuries have really taken a toll on Missouri's defense. Michael Scherer, the team's best and senior linebacker, is done for the year with a torn ACL.. Former five-star recruit and defensive lineman Terry Beckner, Jr. is also out for the season. Missouri has been known for stellar defensive play, but it hasn't shown up consistently this season.
They almost coughed up a 19-0 lead to Vanderbilt this season.
Vols offensive coordinator Mike DeBord wants Tennessee to rule the time of possession game Saturday; that may be a key to winning the game.
"I feel more pressure when the other team is slowing it down and then we're going to have limited series," DeBord said. "That's where the pressure is more, I think, in games like that. There's been pressure all the way through. You want to score every time you get the ball."
How about anything on special teams? Anything we can glean there?
They average 18.1 yards per kickoff return, second worst in the SEC (Arkansas takes the cake at 17.1). Oklahoma transplant Alex Ross is seventh in the conference in return yards, and the team totals the fourth most return yards, but the team gets the ball back more often than any other team in the conference (35 returns to date). Which happens when you give up points.
Kicker Tucker McCann is 5-of-11 in field goal attempts. In other words, he makes 45% of the kicks he makes, by far the lowest in the conference. He's also missed four extra points.
Missouri will soon be a competitor clawing near the top of the SEC East. And there's a lot to like about the Tigers; Coach Barry Odom is the right guy for the job, well-liked by his players and is only going to see his situation improve after bowl season. But this year they've found so many ways to lose games.
And that's all I've got to say about it.
The Missouri Tigers are not good.