Tennessee vs. Missouri
Saturday, 12:21 p.m. ET
Neyland Stadium (102,455) • Knoxville, Tenn.
TV: SEC Network
Series Record: First meeting
Why Saturday is important
History will be made Saturday in Knoxville when Tennessee plays Missouri, the newest member of the SEC East, for the first time ever. The ever-changing conference landscape leaves us with no guarantees, but it’s a safe bet the Vols and Tigers will match up many times over the next few decades. Both teams wish the circumstances were better for the first game. Each team comes in with a 4-5 record and they are playing for a shot at a lower-tier bowl. It’s not the year either envisioned, but a win would help one team salvage some of the season. As will be true with every UT game left, it’s another crucial game for the job status of coach Derek Dooley. After five SEC losses and giving up a school-record 721 yards to Troy last week, it’s hard to see him surviving a loss this week.
Three things to know about Missouri
It’s the Tigers’ first season in the SEC, and it hasn’t gone quite as well as planned. They lost their first four SEC games to Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Vanderbilt by a combined score of 133-55. … They’ve shown some improvement since then. The Tigers got their first SEC win in a 33-10 victory over Kentucky and followed that with a closer-than-expected 14-7 loss at Florida last week. … After being known for its prolific offense in the Big 12, the defense has stepped up this season. The Tigers are ranked 16th nationally in in pass defense (185.6 yards per game) and 42nd nationally in rush defense (125 yards per game). Led by All-SEC candidate defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (63 tackles, 9 TFLs, four sacks), the Tigers had perhaps their best defensive showing of the season last week, limiting the Gators to just 276 total yards of offense.
What you should know about Missouri coach Gary Pinkel
Now in his 12th year with Missouri, Pinkel is the ninth-winningest active head coach among FBS schools with 162 victories, trailing only one SEC coach, Steve Spurrier at South Carolina (204 wins). … Pinkel is the third-winnignest coach in Missouri history, trailing Don Faurot and Dan Devine, both of whom are in the College Football Hall of Fame. … Pinkel had a strong run in the Big 12 from 2005-10. The Tigers averaged 9.2 wins per season and didn’t finish worse than second in the Big 12 North. They were 3-3 in bowl games during that stretch. … Pinkel worked his way up as an assistant coach at the University of Washington in the 1980s before landing his first head-coaching gig at Toledo in 1991 when current Alabama coach Nick Saban left that position to be the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns.
Tennessee player to watch
The Vols need better play from the entire secondary, particularly safety Byron Moore. He’s seen the bench for a few stints this season, but he remains a starter and will need to play better this week. He’s shown the potential to make big plays with four interceptions in the first five weeks of the season. He hasn’t had one since, and he’s struggled in coverage and in making tackles consistently. Getting more consistent play from him and the entire secondary would help the Vols immensely on Saturday.
Missouri player to watch
Richardson is one to watch, but quarterback James Franklin will have the biggest say in how the Tigers perform. He was expected to be one of the top quarterbacks in the league after completing 63.3 percent of his passes for 2,865 yards last season to go along with 981 yards on the ground. His game hasn’t translated well to the SEC, yet. A shoulder injury has hampered him, but even when healthy, he’s completed only 62-of-104 attempts (59.6 percent) for 1,057 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions. Honorable mention goes to punt/kick returner Marcus Murphy, who has run three punts and one kickoff back for a touchdown this season.
Random facts to impress your friends
Pinkel was a college teammate with Saban at Kent State from 1970-72. … This is the first time Missouri has played in the state of Tennessee since 1999. … Tennessee is 78-14 in November since 1990 and 7-2 since 2010. … The Vols haven’t lost a home SEC game in November since 2006. … Tennessee is just two wins shy of 800 as a program.
Dooley on some of the changes the Vols might make defensively this week:
"That is something we are working through as a staff — how we call (the defense) Where are our eyes, who is where? We are going to probably make some game day changes to help."
The Vols will win if …
The offense has proven it can move the ball and put points on the board against just about anybody. Missouri’s defense will offer more resistance than did Troy’s last week, but Tennessee should find a way to score. It’s the defense that needs to make some stops. Even though the Tigers don’t have the most prolific offense, almost everybody has moved the ball on Tennessee, including Akron and even Georgia State at timse. A few turnovers or penalties on the Tigers would help the Vols get them off the field.
The Vols will lose if …
Quarterback Tyler Bray gets loose with the ball again. He had a career game against Troy, but he threw seven interceptions and had a few costly fumbles in the Vols’ four-game losing streak against Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina in the previous four weeks.
Tennessee 35, Missouri 28
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.