Game Time: 7:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. CT
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Vol Network || Tiger Network
How to watch online: Watch ESPN
Odds: Missouri -12.5 || Over/under 61.5 (via OddsShark.com)
Missouri and bowl game are finally appearing in headlines without it being a cruel joke. If it’s still difficult for you to wrap your head around, you’re not alone. The idea the Tigers could legitimately qualify for a bowl seemed a farce just a few weeks ago. Even with the possibility of multiple 5-7 teams bowling, Mizzou seemed destined for another extremely long offseason.
It would have been deserved, but, man, it would have helped the program to have an extra month—give or take—of practices. Now, it’s looking like a definite possibility. After trouncing Florida last weekend, the Tigers are 4-5. They need just a pair of wins to guarantee a bowl bid, and maybe just one to sneak in. The schedule is pretty much ideal, too.
First up is another 4-5 team, Tennessee. The Volunteers, despite coming off a 24-10 win over Southern Miss, are trending in the opposite direction. Butch Jones and Co. haven’t won a single SEC game. Yet, Tennessee—like Missouri—needs wins in two of the next three weeks to feel confident about earning a bowl game.
But confidence doesn’t seem to be high on Rocky Top. The schedule, though, lines up fairly well for Tennessee to keep from going winless in the conference. After a winnable game on the road this week, Tennessee host’s LSU and Vanderbilt to close out the regular season. It’s not difficult to see the Volunteers squeaking out a couple of wins. But it’s also not hard to see them limping to the finish, as the final few grains of sand run out on Jones’ time.
Even a disappointing finish for Mizzou probably won’t lead to Barry Odom leaving. On the other side, Jones could run the table and still probably not return for 2018. It’s possible a loss on Saturday could be enough to end Jones’ tenure. Then again, the same thing has been said for the past month and a half with no result.
Repeat of Florida game?
Despite all the coaching drama, there is an actual football game to be played on Saturday night. In a few ways, said game resembles the most recent one at Faurot Field. Tennessee doesn’t enter with an interim coach, but they have the lamest of ducks in charge.
Mizzou took advantage of the situation against a reeling Florida team. Things would seem to be lined up for a repeat performance this week. The Tigers have plenty of momentum after three straight wins. It’s a Missouri team that’s almost unrecognizable from the one that entered an off week in dire straights.
Drew Lock didn’t put up outstanding stats against the Gators. He only threw the ball 20 times, completing 15 passes for 228 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Lock did enough to stay in the conversation of best quarterbacks in an admittedly shallow league for signal-callers.
His biggest asset last week proved to be a quite successful running game. Without Damarea Crockett, the Tigers have started building excellent depth at the running back position. Against Florida, Ish Witter and Larry Rountree III each put up 83 yards. Rountree, a freshman, got the goal-line work and piled up three touchdowns. Witter scored his lone touchdown on a 15-yard reception.
However, the defense proved to be the biggest surprise in the 45-16 victory. Before that game, the fewest points Mizzou had allowed came in a 31-13 loss to South Carolina. With the offense the Tigers have displayed recently, just an average defense could be enough to see Missouri finish with three more wins. That would be quite the finish for a program that looked dead in the water after a 1-5 start.
Will Tennessee show any heart?
In last week’s preview of the Florida-Missouri game, it was written that teams in the Gators’ position either come out motivated or flat. Obviously, Florida chose the latter option. That allowed Mizzou to jump out early with no real response from the visitors.
Ideally, Tennessee is made aware of that and chooses to make a game of it. Missouri will run away with the game if Tennessee isn’t focused. The Tigers, frankly, are good enough offensively to dominate either way. Where the difference will show up is when the Volunteers have the ball.
Some would say it comes down to pride at this point, but that’s a little unfair. The players have been put in a bad situation by their coach and by the administration. As if it couldn’t get any worse, Jones has been accused of “intimidation, bullying and mental abuse” in an email obtained by the Knoxville News Sentinel. As if the program needed more bad publicity.
At this point, the Jones-Tennessee situation has become a national joke. The dragging on of the saga has threatened the program’s future. With recruiting likely to suffer and current players assuredly to lose faith in the process, the Volunteers are staring a steep decline in the face.
The one positive would be last week’s win over Southern Miss. It shows the team hasn’t completely imploded. Then again, the Volunteers still haven’t won an SEC game. They have had a few close calls, including one-score defeats to Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky. Missouri provides a chance for them to get over the top.
So, what happens?
With the momentum from their past three wins, Missouri jumps out a sizable lead. Meanwhile, Tennessee pulls a Florida and flops in the first half.
A slowed down second half allows the Volunteers some garbage-time scoring. It won’t be nearly enough to beat the Tigers—or even make a game out of it.
Behind the combined rushing abilities of their growing stable of backs and Lock’s increasingly accurate arm, Mizzou has the offense everyone predicted entering the season. It doesn’t seem likely that Tennessee will slow it down. However, the Volunteers have enough offense to possibly keep up.
The result will move Jones one step closer to the door. However, at this point, it seems unlikely a loss to Missouri would be the final nail in the coffin. Conversely, Odom moves one step closer to safety, and the Tigers one step closer to bowl eligibility.
Prediction: Missouri 48, Tennessee 31