The 6-4 Tennessee Volunteers go on the road to face the 5-5 Missouri Tigers on Saturday night. The Tigers beat BYU last week, ending a four-game losing streak, and are a win away from bowl eligibility. The Volunteers are riding a three-game winning streak, with the most recent loss being to an ascendant Alabama team, 19-14, in Tuscaloosa.
It will be Senior Night in Columbia and emotions will likely be running high. This crop of seniors were at the forefront of introducing Missouri football to the SEC ecosystem. Over the span of their careers they've won two SEC East titles, a bunch of games, and cost many a gambler their money. On top of their send-off, Missouri's all-time winningest head coach, Gary Pinkel, will have his final night on the Tiger sideline as the team's leader.
At least on paper, Tennessee is the better team, but the stage is set for an unique environment in Columbia.
1Performance. The S&P+ system says Tennessee has had a percentile performance median of 70 percent against SEC East competition this year. As of late, the Vols also have a hot hand in terms of the opponent-adjusted percentile performances. Missouri, meanwhile, has a percentile performance median of 34 percent against SEC East competition and only broke the 50 percent mark last week for the first time since Oct. 3. Tennessee has clearly played at a higher level consistently this season.
2Comparables. Missouri's defense is currently ranked 12th in the S&P+ rankings. Tennessee has faced higher-ranked defenses in Florida (fifth) and Alabama (first). Against those defenses, UT managed 419 yards and 303 yards, respectively, and both of those games were also on the road. Georgia's defense is ranked 15th, and Tennessee mustered 519 total yards against that similarly-ranked defense. The Vols' offense has faced tougher defenses than Missouri's this season, and has done a pretty good job against them.
3More Comparables. The S&P+ offensive rankings place Tennessee firmly in the 40th position. That would be three spots behind a BYU offense that Missouri held to 16 points and 290 yards last week. The Mizzou defense's best performance of the season probably came last week against the best offense it's faced yet.
Randy Sartin -- USA Today Sports
4Motivation. As previously stated, this will be a special night for the Missouri faithful. Gary Pinkel will be coaching his last home game. He's been at the school since 2001 and has won 117 games, making him the most successful coach in Missouri football history. Meanwhile, one of the most successful senior classes to ever put on the Missouri uniform are playing their last home game. Missouri is a rightful underdog, but the scene is set for them to punch above their weight.
5Special Teams. Tennessee has two great kick and punt returners in Evan Berry and Cameron Sutton. Missouri is pretty good on punt coverage this season, but is, oddly, the worst team in the SEC at kick-off coverage allowing 26.5 yards per return on average. A close game could be broken wide open if Berry or Sutton provide special teams scores, or at least favorable field position.
THREE TO WATCH
Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee: The sophomore has quietly had himself a very good season. He's averaged 4.4 yards per carry, which ranks him 20th in the league, but he's fifth in the conference in carries at 200 in 2015. He averages 88 yards per game, which is good enough for sixth in a league with some very good running backs. If he gets to 100 yards against Missouri's defense, that bodes well for Tennessee's chances at victory.
Kentrell Brothers, LB, Missouri: The best player on the Mizzou's team is the senior linebacker who easily leads the league in tackles at 128 with two games left to be played. He's also contributed 8.5 tackles for loss which is very good for an inside linebacker. Brothers will be needed to stop Hurd, Alvin Kamara, and a scrambling Joshua Dobbs.
Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee: Hurd's running mate, and UT's all-purpose back, is another player that Missouri's defense will have to be prepared for. Kamara would be the feature back on a lot of other teams, but despite sharing duties with Hurd, he's still averaged 6.9 yards per carry. He's also caught 25 passes this season for 7.8 yards per reception. He is another player Missouri's defense will have to focus on.
Despite the unique environment and Missouri's stout defense, it's hard to see the home team pulling an upset. Tennessee is a pretty average team after the first quarter, according to the advanced metrics, so there's reason to believe that if the Tigers weather an early storm, they can grind their way back into the game. What hasn't been touched on is that Tennessee's defense is good, and far outmatches Missouri's defense. The biggest problem with Tennessee's defense is the proclivity to allow big plays, but Missouri's offense isn't positioned to exploit that. Eventually Tennessee's offense will get their points, and Missouri won't be able to keep up. Tennessee 21, Missouri 6