Tennessee at Missouri
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Columbia
TV: SEC Network
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Radio: KMBZ (98.1 FM)
Line: Missouri by 12 1/2
The lowdown: Missouri (4-5, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) has won three consecutive games, and it hosts a struggling Tennessee (4-5, 0-5) team for the final Mizzou home game of the season. The Volunteers have lost six straight SEC games dating to last season. Three of Tennessee’s five conference losses this season have been one-score games. Missouri now seems primed to make a bowl game with its final three games coming against teams with losing records, and junior quarterback Drew Lock is playing the best he ever has for the Tigers. Second-year Mizzou coach Barry Odom’s job seems more secure than it did a few weeks ago, and Tennessee coach Butch Jones appears destined to be fired soon.
Missouri’s key to success: Continue to defend better on third down. After struggling with third-down defense for most of the season, the Tigers have held their opponents to a 37.7 percent third-down conversion rate during their three-game win streak. That rate would rank them 64th in the country if sustained for the entire season thus far. Tennessee’s offense has struggled on third down this season. The Volunteers are ranked 123rd in the country in third down conversion rate this season (30.4 percent).
Tennessee’s key to success: Slow down the Missouri passing game. Lock, the nation’s leader in touchdown passes with 31, is sixth in the country at 9.6 yards per attempt and ranks 10th with 310.6 passing yards per game. Missouri has been successful throwing the ball deep during this winning streak, especially to Emanuel Hall, who leads the SEC in yards per catch with 23.23. The Volunteers have the nation’s No. 4 passing defense at 150 passing yards allowed per game, but that number is deflated because Georgia Tech and Georgia threw a combined 27 times against Tennessee, and Massachusetts only threw for 137 yards in its four-point loss to the Vols. In terms of yards allowed per pass attempt, the Volunteers rank seventh in the SEC at 6.7 yards per attempt.
Key matchup: Missouri’s defensive line vs. Tennessee’s offensive line. During Missouri’s winning streak, the Tigers have had 11 sacks, 10 of which came in games against Idaho and Connecticut. The Volunteers’ offensive line is perhaps the worst in the SEC. Tennessee is last in the league in tackles for loss allowed per game. Against conference opponents, the Volunteers have surrendered an average of 8.6 TFLs per game. Look for defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., who leads the team with six sacks and has said he is finally feeling healthy after ACL tears in two consecutive seasons, to have a big game.
Tennessee player to watch: The quarterback. Jones said the team’s regular starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano, will be a game-time decision against Missouri. Guarantano appeared to injure his ankle in the first quarter of Tennessee’s win over Southern Mississippi last weekend, and he appeared in less than half the game. True freshman Will McBride made his college debut against Southern Mississippi after Guarantano left, and he completed just 1 of 8 passes. The Volunteers are second to last in the SEC in passing yards per game with 168.1.
Aaron Reiss’ prediction: Missouri 48, Tennessee 17. This game will look a lot like Mizzou’s big win over Florida did. The Missouri offense continues to click, and with problems at quarterback, the Volunteers won’t be able to exposure the Tigers’ greatest weakness: their secondary. Mizzou will be just one win away from bowl eligibility after this game.