Winning at Missouri on Saturday would be a big accomplishment for the Tennessee Vols and head coach Josh Heupel. Any SEC football victory is nice but it would mark Heupel’s first league win, help towards the goal of having at least a 6-6 record and earning a much-needed bowl bid, and it would show that the Vols aren’t in the very bottom of the SEC basement with Heupel at the helm.
Unfortunately, a win over the Tigers will be difficult. Despite a 2-2 record, Mizzou has the No. 4 offense in the SEC, averaging 483 yards and almost 39 points per game. They can score quickly and play a somewhat similar offensive style to the Vols. UM also has the 7th best passing defense in the league and with Tennessee’s struggles through the air, that could be a major problem.
But, one area where the Vols should be able to exploit the Tigers fairly easily is through the run game. Missouri has, by far, the worst rushing defense in the SEC, allowing 271 yards on the ground per game. Tiyon Evans and Jabari Small have to be salivating when they see those numbers. The Vols are averaging 204 rushing yards per game and when you add in the mobility of quarterback Hendon Hooker (if he plays), UT should be able to more than effectively pound the rock.
Josh Heupel had this to say about his running attack during his press conference on Thursday afternoon:
“I just think over the past five years, some of the numbers that we’ve put up in the passing game get a ton of the attention, but the run game is a staple of who we are and to me it’s got to be where we start. I think at times we’ve been really efficient. I don’t think we’ve been as consistent as we’re capable of.”
There may be no better time to find the rushing consistency that Heupel is looking for than this week against the Tigers. If Evans and Small can provide the solid attack we’ve seen at times this season, the passing game could also be opened up some and we all know that the Vols need as much help through the air as they can get.
There are plenty of shortcomings that need correcting for the Big Orange to continue getting better. Cutting out needless penalties, limiting harmful turnovers, and creating turnovers themselves, just to name a few. We’ll all be looking to see that those things get cleaned up but Tennessee also needs to exploit the weaknesses of their opponent as early and as often as possible and the ground game seems ripe for the picking this week.
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