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Vols meet Tigers just a win away from bowl eligibility

Associated Press • Nov 23, 2019 at 2:30 PM

COLUMBIA, Mo. — 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 going into Saturday’s Southeastern Conference game at Missouri (7:30 p.m., SEC Network).

Tennessee (5-5, 3-3) has won three straight to bounce back from a 1-4 start. The Vols have allowed a total of 20 points over their past 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 ends the season. The Tigers received a bowl ban as part of NCAA sanctions for an academic misconduct case. Missouri has appealed.

Coach Barry Odom said his Tigers have done a good job of preventing the bowl uncertainty from becoming a distraction.

“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.

Tennessee is seeking its first bowl berth since 2016 but would have plenty of motivation even if the game didn’t have postseason implications.

The Tigers have trounced the Vols 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,” he 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 because of concussions before starting in a 17-13 victory over Kentucky two weeks ago. Jarrett Guarantano took over in the second half against Kentucky 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 him.

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

MIZZOU’S STRUGGLING OFFENSE

Missouri has managed a total of 27 points during its four-game skid and has not exceeded seven points in

any of its past 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 Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant have faced off 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 title that season.

STRENGTH VS. STRENGTH

Tennessee has a couple of dangerous senior receivers in Jauan Jennings (50 catches, 771 yards, 7 TDs) and Marquez Callaway (22-487-5). Missouri 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. The Vols must protect the football against Missouri, which makes the most of its takeaways.

The Tigers have five defensive touchdowns this season to rank second among all FBS teams. Missouri has gotten touchdowns after each of its last 13 interceptions.

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