COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Missouri lost its fifth consecutive game on Oct. 15, a 53-28 defeat at Georgia that sent the Tigers to 1-5 halfway through the season.
Four weeks later, Missouri owns a three-game winning streak and has put itself in bowl contention. Its final three opponents – Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas – have a combined Southeastern Conference record of 1-14.
Before hitting the road for their final two games, the Tigers will take on Tennessee (4-5, 0-5) on Saturday at home.
Missouri (4-5, 1-4) is building off of a 45-16 trouncing of Florida last weekend. Quarterback Drew Lock threw for 228 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on 15-for-20 passing in the win, and the Tigers rushed for 227 yards.
”When you look at their offense – explosive and dynamic,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. ”They’re playing with a lot of confidence. That’s what winning does.”
Jones’ Volunteers are also coming off of a victory, but they don’t carry the same momentum as the Tigers. Tennessee beat Southern Mississippi 24-10 last week to snap a four-game losing streak.
Its defense, which has been fine except in routs at the hands of Georgia and Alabama, is looking to stave off Missouri’s attack, which continues to climb the national charts. The Tigers rank first in the SEC and 15th in the country with 484 total yards per game, and Lock leads the nation with 31 touchdown passes.
”(Lock) can make all the throws, has a live arm and they play to his skill set,” Jones said. ”He plays with great confidence, he has moxie, he has swagger.”
The Volunteers are in jeopardy of failing to make a bowl game for the first time since 2013. The Tigers, meanwhile, haven’t played in a bowl since the 2014 season. Their mantra has been going 1-0 each week, but players admit they do look ahead at bowl chances.
”Right now, 7-5 is definitely something we look at and we shoot for,” Lock said. ”But we do talk about 1-0, and that’s what we’re going to have to be this week to be able to reach 7-5.”
Some other things to watch Saturday as Missouri and Tennessee fight for bowl contention:
BERRY-LESS: Tennessee senior safety Evan Berry was ruled out for the season Monday after leaving early with an injury against Southern Mississippi. He missed six games earlier this season because of injury. Tennessee has not disclosed the nature of Berry’s injury.
D-LINE ZOU: Missouri’s defensive line, which earned the nickname ”D-line Zou” in recent years after sending numerous defensive linemen to the NFL, swarmed Florida last weekend. The Tigers held the Gators to just 3.0 yards per carry and notched eight tackles for loss. Tennessee, meanwhile, has allowed a total of 20 sacks over its last four games (7 vs. South Carolina, 4 vs. Alabama, 7 vs. Kentucky, 2 vs. Southern Miss).
O-LINE ZOU?: Missouri’s offensive line has kept Lock standing. The Tigers have allowed just nine sacks all season, ranking first in the SEC and eighth in the country.
GUARANTANO PROBABLE: Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano is a game-time decision for Saturday’s game. He left last week’s game for three plays in the second quarter and sat out the entire second half. Freshman Will McBride, who threw for just 13 yards on 1-for-8 passing against Southern Miss, is the Volunteers’ only other available scholarship quarterback.
RUSHERS APLENTY: With Missouri running back Damarea Crockett sidelined with a shoulder injury, Ish Witter and Larry Rountree III have come to the rescue in the backfield. Last week against Florida, Lock got in on the action, rushing a season-high seven times for 35 yards.
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