Photo by University of Missouri Athletics (@MizzouFootball on X)
By Tucker Harlin
KNOXVILLE, Tenn- No. 13 Tennessee (7-2, 3-2) travels west to take on No. 14 Missouri (7-2, 3-2) at Faurot Field in Columbia Saturday. The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m ET and will air on CBS.
The Vols and Tigers have gone back and forth since the Tigers joined the SEC. However, the Vols have not suffered a loss to the Tigers since Drew Lock and Derek Dooley’s offense hung 50 on them in 2018.
Eli Drinkwitz is yet to beat the Vols in his tenure in Columbia, and none of the losses have been close.
Drinkwitz’s first loss was a 35-12 blowout, later vacated during the Jeremy Pruitt investigation. The previous two meetings in the Josh Heupel era have ended with the Vols scoring over 60 points and the Tigers scoring 24.
Nine games into 2023, the Tigers have their most wins in a season under Drinkwitz.
Among the highlights are a win over Kansas State thanks to a 61-yard field goal, dominant wins over South Carolina and Vanderbilt, and the Tigers’ first victory at Kentucky in a decade.
Both of the Tigers’ losses are against ranked SEC foes.
LSU overwhelmed the Tigers defense in early October in a 49-39 shootout. Last week, the Tigers had Georgia on the ropes in Athens but could not finish in the 30-21 defeat.
The recipe for success for the Tigers in 2023 has been a high-flying offense.
Quarterback Brady Cook is in his second year commanding the offense. There were questions about his job status coming into the season, but Cook has thrown for 2,471 yards and 16 touchdowns through nine games. Cook is less mobile than in 2022, but he did run for 106 yards against the Vols in Neyland Stadium last year.
Cook’s top two receivers are Luther Burden and Theo Wease.
Burden was a coveted recruit coming out of high school, but his production was limited in 2022. Burden has made a tremendous jump this season, leading the Tigers with 958 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches.
Wease transferred in this year after four seasons at Oklahoma. While Wease has not matched Burden’s production, he is at a steady 530 receiving yards and five touchdowns on the year.
On the ground, running back Cody Schrader has run for a productive 919 yards and 10 touchdowns. Schrader split carries with Nathaniel Peat last year but has taken the workhorse role this season.
Up front, the Tigers are an experienced group. The only new addition for the Tigers was center Cam’Ron Johnson, a transfer from Houston. Armand Membou and Xavier Delgado are back at guard, and Connor Tollison and Javon Foster are playing tackle.
Defensively, the Tigers have a good mix of veterans and new faces.
The most dangerous component of the defensive line is edge rusher Darius Robinson. Robinson is tied for most tackles on the defensive line with fellow edge rusher Johnny Walker, and he leads the Tigers in both sacks and tackles for loss with 5.5 and 8.5.
Kristian Williams and Jayden Jernigan are manning the interior. Both saw the field a substantial amount in 2022 but have yet to exceed their production from last year.
The Tigers field Ty’Ron Hopper and Chuck Hicks at the linebacker position.
Hopper is in the Willie position and is more or less the quarterback of the defense, netting a team-leading 53 tackles through nine games. Hicks gets the nod in the Mike spot after Chad Bailey was shut down for the year, and he has recorded 28 tackles and five tackles for loss.
The secondary is the strongest part of the Tigers defense.
Kris Abrams-Draine and Ennis Rakestraw are the corners. Abrams-Draine leads the Tigers in both passes defended and interceptions with 11 and four. Rakestraw has 27 tackles and a pair of pass breakups this season.
Daylan Carnell, Jaylon Carlies, and Joseph Charleston are the other three members of the Tigers secondary. Carnell is in the Star position, and he leads the secondary with five tackles for loss. Charleston is the strong safety and leads the secondary in tackles with 48. Carlies is at free safety.
On special teams, Harrison Mevis is a weapon for the Tigers. Although he is 15 of 21 this season, the “Thicker Kicker” has a boot for a leg with a 61-yard long this year.
Luke Bauer handles punting for the Tigers. Bauer averages just under 43 yards per punt, and he threw a touchdown pass on a fake field goal attempt at Kentucky.
Marquis Johnson returns the kicks and Luther Burden fields the punts. The longest return either of them have broken out for is 30 yards.