Mizzou-Tennessee matchup showcases teams moving in opposite directions

Kelly Bryant and the Tigers are looking to halt a four-game losing streak.
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Tennessee’s road to a bowl bid is straightforward, whereas Missouri’s path looks a bit more complicated.

Yet both stand just one win away from potential bowl eligibility as two teams headed in opposite directions prepare to face off Saturday at Missouri.

Tennessee (5-5, 3-3 SEC) has won three consecutive games to bounce back from a 1-4 start. The Volunteers have allowed a total of 20 points over their last 10 quarters and believe they still have plenty of room for improvement.

“We have yet to play our best game,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “We have yet to, in my opinion, play a complete game.”

Missouri (5-5, 2-4) has lost four straight and has an unclear postseason future no matter how it fares in its last two games Saturday against Tennessee and Nov. 29 against Arkansas (2-8, 0-6) at Little Rock, Arkansas.

The Tigers received a bowl ban as part of their NCAA sanctions for an academic misconduct case involving a former tutor. Missouri has appealed the ruling.

Tigers coach Barry Odom said his team has done a good job of preventing the bowl uncertainty from becoming a distraction, but he acknowledged that task becomes tougher the longer the situation drags on.

“If we’re spending a lot of time thinking about that, then that takes away from our ability on what we need to do to prepare to be at our best,” Odom said. “Hopefully, we get a resolution here pretty quickly, but also we’ve learned we’ll continue to be patient and we need to make sure we understand the opportunity of living in the here and the now.’

Tennessee is seeking to earn its first bowl berth since 2016, but the Volunteers would have plenty of motivation in this game even if there were no postseason implications.

Mizzou has trounced Tennessee by an identical 50-17 score each of the last two years. This game offers a chance for Tennessee to show how far it has come in Pruitt’s second season.

Tennessee safety Nigel Warrior says the Vols didn’t care enough when they faced Missouri those last two times. Warrior vows that won’t be a problem Saturday.

“I think it’s going to mean something this year,” Warrior said. “We’re going to play harder than we ever have before.’’

VOLS’ QB UNCERTAINTY

Tennessee has shuffled its quarterbacks during this late-season run.

Brian Maurer missed two games while recovering from concussions before starting in a 17-13 victory over Kentucky two weeks ago. Jarrett Guarantano took over in the second half of the Kentucky game and rallied Tennessee from a 13-3 deficit. J.T. Shrout also has received ample playing time.

Pruitt said Wednesday he has decided on a starting quarterback for Saturday’s game but wouldn’t identify which player will take the first snap.

“I’m assuming we’ll see all three,” Odom said.

MIZZOU’S STRUGGLING OFFENSE

Mizzou has scored a total of 27 points during its four-game skid and hasn’t exceeded seven points in any of its last three contests.

Tennessee historically has brought out the best in Missouri’s offense. The Tigers have averaged 45.7 points and 627.7 yards in their last three matchups with the Vols.

FAMILIAR FOES

Pruitt and Tigers quarterback Kelly Bryant have faced before when the stakes were much higher.

Bryant was Clemson’s starting quarterback and Pruitt was Alabama’s defensive coordinator in 2017, when the Crimson Tide allowed just 188 total yards in a 24-6 College Football Playoff semifinal victory. Alabama went on to win the national championship.

STRENGTH VS. STRENGTH

Tennessee has a couple of dangerous senior receivers in Jauan Jennings (50 catches, 771 yards, seven TDs) and Marquez Callaway (22-487-5). Mizzou ranks 10th among all Football Bowl Subdivision teams in pass efficiency defense.

TURNOVER POTENTIAL

After struggling to take care of the ball early in the season, Tennessee has committed only two turnovers during its three-game winning streak.

Tennessee must protect the football against Mizzou, which makes the most of its takeaways.

The Tigers have five defensive touchdowns this season to rank second among all FBS teams. They have scored touchdowns after each of their last 13 interceptions, a streak that began during their victory over Tennessee last year.