(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
After a week of coaching carousel speculation, the Missouri Tigers finally have a game to play. The Tigers host 6-4 Tennessee on Saturday night, needing a win to get bowl eligible.
The biggest story of all, obviously, is that this will be the last time Gary Pinkel coaches a game at Farout Field. Pinkel announced he will retire at the end of the year due to his battle with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
It’s also senior day, so this will be the last time Kentrell Brothers, Evan Boehm, and Russell Hansbrough, among others will play in front of the home crowd.
Three weeks ago, after the Tigers lost to Mississippi State, I thought there was no way the then 4-5 Tigers could get to postseason play. However the team came together amidst the racial divide on campus and further united after Pinkel announced his retirement.
Now, after looking pretty good last Saturday in a 20-16 win over BYU, this team has the belief they can knock off the Volunteers and send their coach off with a win.
All that said, that task will not be easy. Tennessee isn’t the darling of the East like many media outlets predicted them to be at the start of the season, but they are a fairly balanced team and have played the mutual opponents it shares with Missouri better.
It lost (or blew the game) at Florida by one, beat Georgia, and smacked around Kentucky. These were all teams Missouri lost to, but aside from the Florida game, it was in a position to win.
As far as personnel goes, Tennessee is probably as talented as they come. Josh Dobbs is a playmaking dual-threat QB, but can be rather inconsistent. He’s not Dak Prescott, though he can make the Tiger defense look bad if he has opportunities to do so.
It has a very solid one-two punch in the backfield in Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Hurd has 10 touchdowns on the year to Kamara’s six.
What should worry the Missouri fans is that stud freshman defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. is out of the year with a torn ACL and MCL. Beckner has done a terrific job of keeping offensive linemen off the linebackers, allowing them to make plays. Losing him against a team with a backfield like this hurts.
Hurd and Kamara are good targets out of the backfield as well and the Volunteers have no shortage of playmakers out wide. While there is no clear-cut No. 1 guy, Josh Malone, Josh Smith, and Von Pearson are all players to keep an eye on.
Defensively, much like the Tigers, it all starts up front. Derek Barnett has seven sacks on the year and will try to wreak havoc on Missouri’s questionable o-line. Outside linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin will be all over the field, as he is Tennessee’s leading tackler with 89 total tackles.
This isn’t Florida’s, Georgia’s or even Vanderbilt’s defense but there is a lot of speed and a lot of playmakers on that side of the ball.
Last week Missouri allowed Drew Lock to roll outside of the pocket and let things open up a bit. The result was better line play and two touchdowns. It needs to continue to do that to keep Barnett honest and not sprinting upfield seeking to destroy Lock.
Given how good this defense is and the intensity the entire team will play with, I’d say the Tigers need to score 20 points to get the victory and get to bowl eligibility. Tennessee will make a play or two, but it can’t be much more than that.
If Lock limits his mistakes, the line plays better, and the defense can bottle up Dobbs, I say Missouri sends Pinkel out of Farout Field a winner.
I’m predicting a final score of Missouri 20, Tennessee 14 and that the Tigers go bowling for the third straight year.