Tennessee at No. 10 Missouri
Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Memorial Stadium (67,124) . Columbia, Mo.
Radio: Vol Network (106.5 FM Chattanooga)
Series Record: Missouri leads 1-0
Why Saturday is important
Saturday starts a November stretch that will go a long way in determining how coach Butch Jones’ first season is judged. The Vols are 4-4 through eight games. The seemingly unwinnable games such as Alabama and Oregon are over, and though Missouri is a talented opponent as well, the Vols should at least stand a shot in this one. A win would mark UT’s first road win over a ranked opponent since 2006. After getting a signature win over South Carolina in Knoxville earlier this year, winning on the road against a talented opponent is the next step for the Vols. They’ll have to do it with freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs at the helm. The talented first-year player will make his first start after coming on in relief of the injured Justin Worley at Alabama last week. For Missouri, a win keeps the upstart Tigers, who will also be starting a backup quarterback, in first in the SEC East.
Three things to know about Missouri
In just the second year of its SEC membership, Missouri has gone from the back of the pack to the top of the SEC East thus far in 2013. Head coach Gary Pinkel, who led the Tigers to prominence in the Big 12, entered this season on the hot seat after the Tigers went 5-7 in their first year of SEC play. A double-overtime loss to South Carolina last week is the only blemish on Mizzou’s 7-1 record. . The Tigers are getting it done on defense through an opportunistic style of play. Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said Missouri isn’t a “gambling” defense, but the Tigers clearly take advantage of mistakes. The Tigers lead the SEC in interceptions (15) and sacks (25). Even though they only come in 10th in the SEC in total defense, they are fifth in the league in scoring defense. That’s a result of the turnovers and negative plays they create. . Offensively, backup quarterback Maty Mauk took over for the injured James Franklin two weeks ago and has been impressive in relief. He’s got an impressive group of skill players around him and a veteran offensive line. Receivers L’Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham, both 6-foot-4 or taller, are two of the most physically impressive receivers in the league.
What you should know about Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel
A collegiate tight end at Kent State, Pinkel got his coaching start as a graduate assistant there before moving on to stints as an assistant at Washington and Bowling Green. . He was eventually promoted to offensive coordinator with the Huskies, leading to his first head coaching job at Toledo in 1991. He led the Rockets to a 73-37-3 mark in 10 seasons before taking over at Mizzou in 2001. . There have been a few speed bumps, such as the 2012 season, but Pinkel has been overwhelmingly successful in Columbia. The Tigers are 170-99-3 during his tenure that included seven consecutive bowl appearances between 2005-2011.
Tennessee player to watch
All eyes will be on true freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs. A four-star recruit out of Alpharetta, Ga., Dobbs will make his much-anticipated starting debut after a thumb injury put starter Justin Worley on the shelf. Known as one of the smartest players on UT’s roster, many predicted that Dobbs would eventually inherit the starting role in Jones’ offense. That opportunity came quicker than expected after Worley’s injury. A mobile quarterback, Dobbs adds some dimensions to the offense that Worley didn’t. Of course any freshman, regardless of maturity or intelligence, can be prone to error.
Missouri player to watch
The Tigers will also have a freshman signal caller, redshirt freshman Maty Mauk, who will be making his third start after taking over for the injured James Franklin. A record-breaking high school quarterback, Mauk has thrown for a total of nearly 550 yards in his two starts. Though not a true scrambler, Mauk can also make enough plays with his feet to keep a defense honest.
Random facts to impress your friends
Tennessee hasn’t won a road game since knocking off Kentucky in 2010. . Missouri knocked off the Vols in quadruple overtime in 2012 in the first ever meeting between the two schools. That loss unofficially sealed the fate of former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, who was fired a couple weeks after that loss. . The Vols have played five ranked teams thus far in 2013, while Missouri and UT’s next opponent, Auburn, are also currently ranked. . Tennessee has never played a game in the state of Missouri. . Missouri (11) and Tennessee (10) lead the nation in all-time overtime wins. . Mauk’s older brother, Ben Mauk, played under Butch Jones at Cincinnati.
“Another great football team, another great challenge – having to go on the road. Great, great defense, great defensive line, physical, tough, active, great team speed, playing with a lot of confidence offensively. Up-tempo football team, we are going to have to get lined up, get our signals in, playing fast, physical upfront. Again, great team speed.”
– Tennessee coach Butch Jones on Missouri
The Vols will win if …
They can get enough stops on defense and protect the ball on offense. Mizzou’s defense has shown some holes and the Vols should be able to put some points on the board if there aren’t too many self-inflicted wounds. Can the Vols get enough stops against Mizzou’s potent offense? That’ll be a storyline to keep an eye on.
The Vols will lose if …
Missouri’s pressure forces too many turnovers and mistakes. The Tigers have feasted on mistakes all season and that has to be nerve-wracking for the Vols with a true freshman starting at quarterback.
Unofficial UT injury report:
Out: QB Justin Worley, QB Nathan Peterman, TE Alex Ellis, TE Joseph Ayres, LB Curt Maggitt, WR Ryan Jenkins, DT Maurice Couch (ineligible)
Questionable: LG Alex Bullard
Probable: S Byron Moore, S Brian Randolph, QB Riley Ferguson
Missouri 35, Tennessee 24
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga