With its second-straight SEC East road trip on deck, the Tennessee football team hit the practice field Tuesday to resume preparations for its matchup at Missouri. The Vols (2-2, 0-1 SEC) and Tigers (2-2, 0-1) square off Saturday at noon ET in Columbia.
Running backs coach Jerry Mack, linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary and select players met with media Tuesday ahead of Saturday’s divisional showdown.
Tennessee’s rushing attack has been sufficient through the first four weeks under head coach Josh Heupel’s up-tempo, high-octane offense, averaging 201 yards per game on the ground. The Vols head into Columbia with a favorable matchup as Missouri allows 269.2 rush yards per contest, ranked last in the SEC and 129th in FBS.
“I think our tempo helps us extremely,” Mack said Tuesday morning inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center. “I think the way we get players in and out of the game, the way we get our cleats set in the ground—you can see it from the defensive lines that we play against—a lot of times those guys won’t be set. You can see it from the defensive secondary, sometimes those guys won’t always be in position and we can steal a couple of explosive plays like that.
“I do think the things we do from formation variation, you’ve seen a lot more of that probably over the last couple of weeks, and I think you will see even more of it as we move on. Just always giving and presenting a different look to the defense is going to be our key.”
Mizzou’s aerial assault will challenge the Tennessee defensive unit as sophomore quarterback Connor Bazelak enters the weekend putting up 300 yards per game through the air—ranking third in the SEC and 13th in the nation. Jean-Mary spoke to the Tigers’ ability to spread out a defense with schemes implemented by second-year head coach Eliah Drinkwitz.
“I think Coach Drinkwitz does a great job,” Jean-Mary said. “He did a great job as a coordinator, and he does a great job as a head coach. You can see they’re going to spread you from sideline to sideline, they’re going to give you a lot of different formations. It’s probably simple for them on offense, but it’s a challenge for defenses because they put guys in different positions and they’re going to give you a lot of different formations, motions and shifts, so it’s going to be a challenge there.”