Coming into Week 5, the Vols should be accustomed to being back playing in front of fans, having Josh Heupel as a coach on game days and all of the other rigors that come with the football season.
Tennessee will have faced Bowling Green, Pitt, Tennessee Tech and Florida at this point. The obvious best case scenario record would be 4-0, but that is unlikely considering Florida's talent. A reasonable record would be a comfortable 3-1, and the worst case scenario come Week 5 would be a 2-2 record, having lost to both the Gators and Pitt.
Week 5 will see Tennessee take on its second SEC team of the year, and it will be one of the easiest SEC squads the Vols will play all season, along with Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. However, all college football fans know that every SEC team is bound to have a good amount of talent, and Mizzou brings a lot to the table when they face the Vols in Columbia come Week 5.
Let's take a look:
What to Look for on Offense
2020 was a bit of a struggle for the Tigers. Of course, a global pandemic and a new coaching staff is never a favorable combination for success. The running game was where the offense struggled most, but the Tigers were still able to account for over 400 yards and 27 points a game.
QB Conor Bazelak enters his sophomore year after making a splash last season, throwing for 2,366 yards with seven scores in five starts. 2021 should see Bazelak be even better, especially considering the good weapons in his arsenal. The one that jumps out is 6'4" senior wideout Keke Chism, along with high-upside Tauskie Dove and Ohio State transfer Mookie Cooper.
Mizzou's O-line should be able to sufficiently protect Bazelak with plenty of veteran options, but the amount of backs they have to block for is slim to none. The two backs that "highlight" the Tiger backfield are Tyler Badie and Elijah Young. Badie is known for his receiving skills, as he only had 242 yards on the ground last year, and Young is, you guessed it, really young and inexperienced. He has only ten carries to his name as a Tiger, but his speed and elusiveness would make him serviceable in the passing game as well. The optimal approach for Mizzou would be using Badie as the primary runner with Young playing more downs as a pass-catcher, but the lack of experience between the two of them will make it difficult for the Tigers to have a bounce back season on the ground.
What to Look for on Defense
Like Florida in the last opponent preview, Missouri's defense was lackluster. Giving up 408 yards and 32 points per game in the last half of the year is not the way Mizzou wanted to end 2020. There is some hope for 2021, however, as former NFL head coach and defensive back Steve Wilks is the new DC for the Tigers.
Wilks should have plenty of fun coaching Mizzou's talented defensive line, which consists of Kobe Whiteside, Akial Byers and Trajan Jeffcoat. The linebacker corps is going through a bit of a rebuild after losing Nick Bolton to the NFL Draft, but the combination of Rice transfer Blaze Alldredge and 230-pound Devin Nicholson is still solid.
It's safe to say that if there is one thing Tennessee will struggle with on offense in Week 5, it's the ground game, as the Mizzou front seven should not be taken lightly.
The Tiger secondary is the weak spot. Jalani Williams and Martez Manuel will lead as safeties, but Williams is inexperienced, and Manuel, while serviceable, is not a stud. Talent at corner is lacking, and this secondary looks poised to yet again have a subpar season.
The Bottom Line
Mizzou's offense can put up points, especially through the air. Conor Bazelak will look to blow the gates open in his first full year as starter, and in Week 5 it will be the first time he plays Tennessee. Remember, in Week 2 of 2020 when the Vols beat the Tigers, Mizzou was struggling to figure out their quarterback situation. Had they done it by Week 2 last year, the result could have been different, or at least closer than 35-12.
Josh Heupel's air attack will be able to put points up on the Tiger defense, but Mizzou's pass rush and beefed up front will make it difficult for Tennessee's QB to have a lot of time to throw and for the Vol backfield to have a big day.
Mizzou is going to give the Tennessee defense some fits, as other than Florida, this will be their toughest offense faced yet. The key to a Tennessee victory lies in the Vols aerial attack on offense. If the QB and the receivers are rolling, with Mizzou having nothing for them on defense, Tennessee will have a good shot at a win on the road.
The date is October 2. The place is Columbia, Missouri. Tennessee's matchup with Mizzou, a familiar SEC East foe, has the chance to be one of the most exciting Tennessee games all year. This time around, Tennessee has a brand new coaching staff with a lot of energy, but the Tigers are entering their second year with head coach Eliah Drinkwitz, and their quarterback is set to play as the de facto starter all season.
The last two years, Tennessee fans have seen the hype for the Vols come crashing down to the ground with a 2019 loss to Georgia State in the opener and a 2020 blowout loss to Kentucky. The Pitt game in Week 2 could serve as the Vols make or break game this season, but Mizzou is an SEC opponent that Tennessee will have to play on the road with it being their second road contest in a row, which is why Mizzou will be the true testament of how good the Vols can be in 2021.
Picture Credit: Rocky Top Talk
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