No. 21 Tennessee takes the Southeastern Conference’s longest winning streak into Saturday’s home opener against Missouri in Knoxville, Tenn.
The Volunteers (1-0, 1-0 SEC) built off last year’s season-ending six-game winning streak by eking past South Carolina 31-27 on the road last Saturday in their 2020 opener.
Third-year coach Jeremy Pruitt has a veteran squad, including senior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, but wants to see more efficiency after his team went 1-for-11 on third-down conversions against the Gamecocks.
“Something that has got to be addressed,” Pruitt said. “We have to be able to finish blocks and have to understand the down and distance as a running back. … But we did create explosive plays on offense; there’s times when we moved the ball at will, but we have to make some consistency there.”
Missouri (0-1, 0-1) didn’t generate much on offense in its Saturday opener against Alabama — a 38-19 home loss — until it was too late. The Tigers scored 16 points in about the final 16 minutes, including a final-play touchdown, after falling behind 35-3.
Missouri wants to play fast under first-year coach Eliah Drinkwitz, who mostly went with quarterback Shawn Robinson, a dual threat who started eight games at TCU before sitting out last season as a transfer.
Robinson completed 19 of 25 passes for 185 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions, posting the best completion percentage (76.0) for a Missouri quarterback in his debut since Blaine Gabbert (75.8) in 2009. Redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak played late and went 7 of 14 for 68 yards.
“I’m comfortable playing multiple (quarterbacks) meaningful snaps throughout the season,” said Drinkwitz, who also calls plays and serves as offensive coordinator.
“I don’t think this is going to be a typical season like we’ve ever had before. I just think we have enough data to think that we’re (not) going be able to go through the entire season with one quarterback.”
Drinkwitz, who went 12-1 in his one season as head coach at Appalachian State in 2019 while Mizzou went 6-6, also has an SEC stalwart in running back Larry Rountree III. The senior enters the game with 2,815 career rushing yards — 5.1 per attempt — and 26 touchdowns.
Tennessee’s running game is led by senior Ty Chandler, the team’s top rusher in each of the past two seasons. He gained 86 yards on 13 carries versus South Carolina.
Sophomore Eric Gray is a talented tag-team partner running behind one of the best offensive lines in the SEC.
Tennessee’s defensive star in Week 1 was senior edge rusher Deandre Johnson, who earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors after making 2.5 sacks and forcing a fumble.
Tennessee can’t afford a stumble here as it goes for eight in a row. After this game, the Vols play four teams in six weeks that are in the current top 13 of the AP poll — Georgia, Alabama, Texas A&M and Auburn.
“We’re 1-0 and the way I look at it, I count all of the games that you play as losses, so I say right now we’re 1-9,” Pruitt said. “We’ve got a lot of things that we need to work on, but we’ve got a lot of time to do it. This team, their identity, how they’re going to be remembered, they’ve got nine weeks to decide that. It will be up to them.”
–Field Level Media