Life hasn’t been easy for the Mizzou Tigers in 2022. The defense is clearly talented and it seems evident that Eli Drinkwitz gets a ton of value and effort from his defensive players on a week-to-week basis.
By Matt Zemek
The issue for the Tigers has been their offense, which leads to inconsistent results. The team hasn’t won more than two games in a row. The Tigers lost last week to Kentucky and now have to travel to Knoxville to play a Tennessee team that recently lost its first game of the season and will try to remain in contention for the College Football Playoff. Here are three ways Mizzou can spring the upset against the Vols.
Get after Hendon Hooker early and often
This can be filed under the category “easier said than done.” Not only is Hooker completing over 70% of his passes in the SEC, he has thrown only two interceptions this season. He has shouldered the workload for the Tennessee offense and carried the burden of being the man who has to make things happen. Defenses game plan to stop him, and with the exception of Georgia this past weekend, he has answered the call. Missouri, though, has a defense which has been superb for most of the season. It played well against Georgia. It played well against South Carolina. It played well against Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Now comes the ultimate test against Tennessee’s lethal passing attack. Maybe Mizzou’s defensive ability can contain Hooker, but there’s a reason he’s a Heisman favorite right now. The Tigers really do need to play their best defensive game of the year against Hendon Hooker.
The Vols aren’t Alabama
“Not being Alabama” isn’t necessarily a bad thing in 2022, given how shaky Alabama has looked. The point of saying “The Vols aren’t Alabama” is that they’re not used to being in this position in mid-November. Playing in huge games is not a normal, ordinary part of their world. This is all very new.
For all the successes the Vols are having in 2022, they do not have a bonafide star in the backfield or at receiver outside of Jaylin Hyatt. This is not a suggestion that they aren’t talented; it’s more of an indication that the team has overachieved based on the numbers their key positions are churning out. If you remove Hyatt, Tennessee is a solid team but definitely not a dominant one. The point here is that Mizzou has to go into this game knowing that UT has weaker elements on its offense. Take away Hyatt and see what happens. Tennessee isn’t used to dealing with this much championship pressure. Deliver a great first quarter on defense and see how the Vols react. They might not handle it well. Then an upset can happen.
Offense simply must be better than last week
A team won’t win many games putting up 252 yards of total offense in a game. That’s exactly where Mizzou was at the end of last week, and that’s where they can’t fall this week. The Tigers need to find a way to get Luther Burden going. They’re simply a better team when he’s firing on all cylinders, and they’re an increasingly ordinary team when he can’t. This is a five-star talent which has to bust loose in order for the offense to help out the Mizzou defense. Burden put up only 69 total yards of offense against Kentucky, which is not nearly enough to beat Tennessee. More than raw numbers, Burden has to make clutch plays which truly change the equation for the Tigers and give them an early lead, causing the Vols to feel scoreboard pressure.