Vols say SEC East race won't distract them against Missouri
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) By halftime of its game with Missouri on Saturday, Tennessee should know whether it still has a chance of reaching the Southeastern Conference championship game.
The Volunteers insist they'd rather just concentrate on the task at hand.
In order to win its first SEC Eastern Division title since 2007, Tennessee (7-3, 3-3) must win its final two games and have No. 21 Florida (7-2, 5-2) lose at No. 16 LSU (6-3, 4-2) on Saturday. The Florida-LSU game should end sometime during the first half of Tennessee's game with Missouri (3-7, 1-5).
''Nothing's going to happen unless we beat Missouri, so that's our primary focus,'' Tennessee defensive end Corey Vereen said.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones was asked this week if he might consider making sure that the LSU-Florida result wasn't announced at Neyland Stadium just to make sure his players didn't get caught thinking about their division title hopes.
''It may sound like coach-speak, but I haven't even thought about that,'' Jones said. ''When you put Missouri on video, you're facing a very, very talented football team that's going to take all of our effort and all of our energies.''
Tennessee enters this game as a 15-point favorite but knows not to overlook anyone. The Vols already lost as a two-touchdown favorite earlier this season when they fell 24-21 at South Carolina .
Since joining the SEC in 2012, Missouri has won in each of its two previous trips to Knoxville. The Tigers won 51-48 in four overtimes in 2012 and 29-21 in 2014.
The Tigers snapped a five-game losing streak last week by beating Vanderbilt 26-17 . Missouri's chances of earning a second straight win depends on whether it can slow down Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who threw three touchdown passes and rushed for 147 yards and two more scores last week in a 49-36 victory over Kentucky .
''He's running away from people, he's running over people and he's playing as good as anybody,'' Missouri coach Barry Odom said. ''He's a total player.''
Some other things to watch Saturday when Tennessee hosts Missouri.
ELITE PASS RUSHERS: Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett has recorded 10 sacks each of the last three seasons to give him a career total of 30, putting him two shy of Reggie White's school record. Missouri's Charles Harris has delivered 17 tackles and 4 + sacks over his last two games.
ON THE RUN: Tennessee is coming off a 376-yard rushing performance against Kentucky in which quarterback Joshua Dobbs gained 147 yards, Alvin Kamara ran for 128 yards and John Kelly picked up 94 yards. Missouri freshman Damarea Crockett has rushed for 837 yards this season and is facing a Tennessee defense that has allowed 340.8 yards rushing per game and 6.7 yards per carry over its last four meetings with Football Bowl Subdivision opponents.
MISSOURI'S PASSING: Missouri quarterback Drew Lock ranks second in the SEC in yards passing and total offense. Jones says the Tigers also have ''the best overall receiving corps we've played all year as a group.'' Lock will be trying to avoid Tennessee cornerback Cam Sutton, who returned last week from a fractured ankle that sidelined him for six games. Sutton is Tennessee's career leader in passes defended.
INJURY ISSUES: Jones says Tennessee safety Todd Kelly Jr. – the Vols' leading tackler – is doubtful due to an ankle injury. Jones also has said offensive linemen Dylan Wiesman and Chance Hall are questionable. Missouri center Samson Bailey's status is uncertain due to an ankle injury.
MISSOURI'S KICKING WOES: Missouri kicker Tucker McCann is just 5 of 11 on field-goal attempts this season. McCann missed two field goals and two extra-point attempts against Vanderbilt last week. Walk-on Ben Tesson came in to kick Missouri's final extra-point attempt of the game.
AP freelance writer Jade Washburn in Columbia, Missouri, contributed to this report.
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