Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has been imploring to his team since his arrival to learn how to snap and clear putting victory and adversity behind them. That's certainly what this team has to have done this week coming off the blowout loss to Alabama.
Don't doubt that Jones will get back to the Tide game this off-season and use it for motivation, but for now and for Saturday night that game must be gone in the minds of the players as Tennessee takes on a Missouri team that causes their own set of problems. Defensively, Tennessee has to prepare for two quarterbacks as starter James Franklin continues to practice to try and work himself back into the line up.
Regardless of who the quarterback is Tennessee's biggest concern is the Tigers speed and vertical passing attack.
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"The biggest challenge will be balls down the field from them," defensive coordinator John Jancek said. "That will be the biggest issue if we aren't good with our fundamentals and technique."
The Tigers aren't void of running the ball as they average 224.5 yards a game and they do it by playing the numbers game. Missouri is routinely in the spread formation with 4 and 5 wide receiver sets trying to empty the box creating more one on one match-ups for a physical offensive line and their running backs.
"They spread you out," linebacker Tommy Thigpen said. "They put 4 or 5 wide receivers in the game and spread you out to create space. You got five guys in the box and they have five linemen. Their backs are good enough to make guys miss. They create a lot of one on one match-ups."
Averaging nearly 42 points a game, Missouri's offense is difficult to contain and match up with. But they are not just outscoring people. The Tigers defense causes plenty of problems wrecking havoc on quarterbacks and they will certainly be coming after freshman Josh Dobbs, who is making his first career start.
Missouri's defense has 25 sacks led by defensive end Michael Sam, who has 10 to lead the SEC. The Tigers defensive front across the board is as good and as deep as anyone's in the SEC if not the deepest. The results of Missouri's pressure hasn't been just sacks. They lead the SEC in interceptions with 15. Offensive line coach Don Mahoney said it's more than just Sam. Nine different Tigers have sacks this season and the veteran offensive line coach said staying disciplined and playing as a unit is key for his position.
"Sam is a great player but it's not just him. They do a number of different things with their front, twists and stunts that are designed to get the centers and guards involved and then free up the edge. Or you might have one side stunt to free up the other side," Mahoney said of the aggressive scheme his unit is preparing for.
"They do a great job of testing your discipline with what they do and they will also look to isolate guys one-on-one and attack you that way. We have to play together. They're a heck of a defensive front.
Another interesting item to watch is how this team handles the environment. Memorial Stadium isn't the biggest, but it can get loud and there is a true freshman playing quarterback.
The other item to watch with the environment is the weather. Saturday's forecast calls for cloudy skies and a high of around 53, but low in the 30's. The weather in Knoxville has been warm all week, with temperatures in the upper 70's for the Vols on the practice field. Tennessee hasn't practiced in the cold all season so how does this team handle the weather especially if things aren't going well early. It might seem a little off the wall, but it's a varible to keep an eye on Saturday night.
There are several match-ups in this game that are of concern to Tennessee. One of the biggest is Tennessee's secondary versus the Missouri receivers. The Tiger receivers are tall and athletic and Missouri likes to play jump ball with them down the field and they will throw screens in the flat. Last week the Tigers scored on a 96 yard touchdown pass. Against Georgia they scored on a 40 yard jump ball on a half-back pass. Tennessee has given up two passing touchdowns of 54 yards or more the last two weeks.
To further compound the concern, the health of safety Brian Randolph, the Vols defensive quarterback, is unknown. Randolph was very limited all week on the practice field.
For a closer look at the rest of the match-up's, check out How they match-up from Rob Lewis.
Slow road starts
Without question you have to put in context who the Vols have played on the road. That's would be the nation's #1 and #2 teams in the BCS rankings. But for Tennessee to get an upset win on the road, they must get off to a better start. Tennessee on the road has been outscored 90-14 and they have yet to gain a first down on their first offensive possession. At Oregon, it was a fumble. At Florida, it was a fumble and last week it was a 3 and out at Alabama with the tight end falling down as he was wide open across the middle.
Missouri has been a fast starting team particularly the last few weeks of the season. Tennessee must reverse their struggling trend in how they have started games on the road.
MAXIM THAT MATTERS
Protect our kickers, our QB, our lead and our ball game.
Saturday night, Tennessee looks to pull an upset over Missouri and with a freshman quarterback. It's imperative that the Vols protect Josh Dobbs is every facet. The Tigers are very good off the edge leading the SEC with 25 sacks. Tennessee's offensive tackles will have arguably their biggest challenge to date.
But it's not just on the offensive line to help Dobbs out. The receivers have to catch the ball better than a week ago and the running backs have to turn 3 yard gains into 6-8 yard gains.
It's on the defense to raise their game. They must make Missouri earn things. They can't give up easy scores and big plays. Tennessee's defense must tackle. They must play out of the gates and not force Dobbs to be in a catch up mode.
More than ever, all phases of the team must raise their game to control the ball game.
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
We asked PowerMizzou.com's Gabe DeArmond to take a stab at a couple of questions for us about this weekend's Tennessee-Missouri game and here's the conversation:
From the outside looking in Maty Mauk has seemed to struggle at consistency at the quarterback position outside of a few big pass plays, where do you think his confidence is coming off of the South Carolina defeat and how do you expect him to perform on Saturday?
No question. He's been up and down. Against Florida, the Gator offense couldn't do anything to really threaten Missouri. He played well in that game, but could have had three picks and struggled in the red zone. Against South Carolina, Mauk was hardly the only one to blame, but he played his part in letting the Gamecocks hang around and it burned them in the end. Mauk is starting the third game of his career. I think he's probably been better than you would expect out of a kid thrown into the fire against UGA, Florida and South Carolina, but there's room for improvement. The one thing I don't think will suffer is his confidence. Chase Daniel, the former Mizzou great, was speaking at a booster club a couple of weeks ago and said he saw a little bit of Mauk in him in that he is incredibly confident. Mauk might not play well, but it won't have anything to do with him not believing he's capable of it.
Missouri seems to have a talented group of skill players at wide receiver and running back and Tennessee players and coaches have talked all week about Missouri's team speed, after seeing SEC offenses for a couple of seasons now does this look like a legit group of skill players the Tigers have?
The one thing we thought we knew Mizzou had coming into this league was the skill position guys to make things interesting. Henry Josey is a star back when healthy and Marcus Murphy has been much better than I expected. With L'Damian Washington, Marcus Lucas and Dorial Green-Beckham, the Tigers have a trio of receivers that cause as many matchup problems as any group in America. Throw in Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt (31 catches, 369 yards, 2 TDs combined) and I don't think it's ridiculous to say the Tigers have five wideouts that can hold their own with any group in America. They might not have the one Mike Evans type guy, but one through five, it's a very good receiving corps.
Why has Missouri been able to get to the quarterback as much as they have so far this season?
Because Michael Sam has turned into a player we didn't know he was capable of being. Honestly, he's been a good player through his career. But nothing like this. He's a one-man wrecking crew. Well, that's not true because Kony Ealy leads the SEC in QB hurries and Markus Golden and Shane Ray have been in the backfield a ton. That gives Mizzou four defensive ends that are as good as just about anyone. Matt Hoch and Lucas Vincent have done a nice, underrated job in the middle, but it's the ends that make things go. When the Tigers go to their three-DE formation with Ealy moving down inside, they can get to the QB from any spot on the line. Even in last week's loss, they had quite a few TFLs.
We've all heard about James Franklin throwing this week, but realistically what are the chances of him playing on Saturday?
I don't think he'll play unless Mauk gets hurt. That's not a guarantee. I know he's practiced and he's getting close. But I think ideally Missouri would like to give him another weak to heal up. It's my expectation that this is Mauk's game to win or lose barring an injury.