The Tennessee Volunteers will look to become bowl eligible this weekend when they play host to the Missouri Tigers. Kickoff is set for 3:30 EST on Saturday, November 17, at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee. The game will be broadcast nationally on CBS.
Missouri is currently listed as a 5.5-point favorite on the road. That line has increased slightly after Missouri opened the week as 5-point favorites. The over/under is set at 56 points. Be sure to check out a full list of the Week 12 college football odds.
Before the season, playing in a bowl game would have seemed like an ambitious goal for the Volunteers. However, Tennessee just needs to win one of their final two games to make it happen. The Vols have won three of their last five games, including upsets over Auburn and Kentucky, both of which were ranked at the time.
Based on those two wins alone, Jeremy Pruitt may have surpassed expectations for his first season in Knoxville. But getting his team to a bowl game would be that much sweeter. If the Vols can’t be Missouri at home this week, they’ll have one more chance to become bowl eligible next week against Vanderbilt. However, they would surely prefer to get their sixth win in front of their home fans.
Meanwhile, Missouri was able to lock up a bowl spot with a win over Vanderbilt last week. The Tigers have won three of their last four games, including a 21-point road upset over Florida a couple weeks ago. Much like Tennessee, Missouri is 2-4 in SEC play but still has a chance to finish .500 in league play if they can win their two remaining games. The Tigers can also secure a winning season if they can knock off Tennessee this week or Arkansas next week.
Since Missouri joined the SEC, they have won four of their six head-to-head meetings with Tennessee, which has been a program on the downslide for much of that time. The Tigers got the better of the Vols in a 50-17 rout last season. However, Tennessee was able to successfully defend Neyland Stadium two years ago, beating Missouri 63-37.
Call me crazy, but I think I’m ready to jump on the Tennessee bandwagon. Pruitt is making a genuine difference in his first season and I think they could be poised for a third straight home win. Missouri presents a different kind of challenge than Kentucky did last week. However, the Tigers are far from flawless. I’m a little more comfortable leaning toward the home underdog in this game.
Despite a couple of strong performances against Kentucky and Florida, the Missouri defense went back to being a problem last week against Vanderbilt. To be fair, the Tigers made the plays they needed to on that side of the ball, but they also gave up over 450 yards and 28 points to one of the weaker offensive teams in the SEC. The worst part is how many rushing yards they gave up, which shouldn’t happen against a team like Vanderbilt.
If the Tennessee offense can have similar success running the ball this week, the Vols will be in good shape. On the season, Tennessee’s rushing numbers aren’t pretty. But the backfield tandem of Tim Jordan and Ty Chandler may be coming on strong late in the season. Both were productive last week against a Kentucky defense that has been outstanding for much of the season. If the Vols can keep running the ball the way they did a week ago, they’re definitely a threat to beat Missouri.
The other key, of course, is quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. The sophomore continues to make small but meaningful strides forward. Outside of the Auburn game, he hasn’t posted outrageous numbers. But he’s managing games and being efficient, completing 65% of his passes with just two interceptions on the season. As long as the Volunteers are able to run the ball, Guarantano should be fine and have a chance to play well against the Missouri defense.
On the other side of the ball, the Tennessee defense has been fantastic in November, giving up a total of 10 points over their past two games. To be fair, one of those games was against Charlotte. However, the Vols were excellent against Kentucky last week. Pruitt was able to scheme to take away Kentucky’s biggest strength. The Volunteers stopped the Wildcats on the ground, forced three turnovers, and were two minutes away from a shutout.
Obviously, Drew Lock and the Missouri offense create a much bigger challenge this week. Despite an up and down season, Lock is one of the best pure passers in the SEC. That being said, we’ve seen him struggle at times against good defenses. After throwing two interceptions last week, he’s thrown more picks than touchdown passes in SEC play. With Pruitt scheming, the Volunteers should have a good chance of limiting his productivity through the air.
I understand why Tennessee remains a home underdog in this game. But the Volunteers have looked like a legitimate SEC team over the past month, a drastic change from the team that went 0-8 in conference play last year. Beating Missouri at home will be a challenge, but as 5.5-point underdogs, I like the Vols to at least keep this game close and give themselves a chance to win late.