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Tennessee’s offense or defense on the field in the last two minutes to beat Missouri?

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Vegas says the Tennessee at Missouri game this Saturday is a pick ‘em.

It says the teams are evenly matched, that the Tigers home-field advantage is slight, and that it figures to be a high-scoring affair.

If you go by the past two years, the teams aren’t evenly matched.

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If you go by this season, that’s a different story.

The Vols are ranked No. 13 in the College Football Playoff poll, the Tigers are 14th. The Vols are 7-2 overall, 3-2 in the SEC. The Tigers are 7-2 overall, 3-2 in the SEC.

Tennessee beat South Carolina by 21 points, the Tigers beat the Gamecocks by 22. UT beat Kentucky by six, the Tigers beat the Wildcats by 17.

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Given that UT-Missouri figures to be a close game, an interesting question has been posed:

If you’re Tennessee, would you want your offense on the field in the final two minutes to win the game or would you want your defense on the field to protect a lead?

Let’s examine.

Tennessee’s offense leads the SEC in rushing, and ranks fourth in total yards and scoring.

After a miserable outing against Texas A&M, quarterback Joe Milton has played three solid games in a row. At Kentucky, he completed 17 of 20 passes. Against UConn, he hit 11 of 14 for 254 yards and two touchdowns in one half.

Milton has also been effective running the football. Discounting sacks, he had 12 carries for 93 yards against Alabama. He ran for 42 gross yards against Kentucky. He had a six-yard touchdown run against UConn.

When Milton runs the ball well, it keeps the defense more honest and makes UT’s attack more efficient.

Tennessee is averaging 227.8 rush yards per game behind the trio of Jaylen Wright, Dylan Sampson and Jabari Small. Wright leads the SEC in yards per carry (7.51). He is third in the SEC in rush yards per game (91.8) and would lead the league in rushing if he averaged 15 carries per game, instead of 12.

Here’s another reason to favor UT’s offense to win the game: The Vols have scored 66 and 62 points in the last two meetings against Missouri.

UT won last year 62-24, scoring the last 38 points of the game. UT gained 724 yards – 460 passing, 264 rushing.

In 2021, UT won at Missouri 62-24. The Vols led 45-10 at halftime. UT racked up 683 yards – 458 rushing.

 It’s fair to question whether Missouri’s defense has figured out a way to stop UT’s offense.

Why would you prefer Tennessee’s defense to win the game?

The Vols defense has been more consistent than the offense. It ranks first in the SEC in run defense, third in total defense and third in scoring defense. It is second in the league in tackles for loss and fourth in sacks.

Tennessee’s defense has not allowed an opponent to score 30 points in a game this season.

The defense didn’t play well at Florida or in the second half against Alabama. But it did a nice job against South Carolina and Texas A&M and made enough second-half stops at Kentucky to beat a red-hot quarterback.

Missouri’s offense counters with a red-hot quarterback, Brady Cook. Cook has completed 67.3% of his passes for 274.6 yards per game (fourth in the SEC) with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Last year, Cook ran for 106 yards on 16 carries against the Vols.

Missouri also boasts the SEC’s leading rusher, former walk-on Cody Schrader (102.1 yards per game) and the SEC’s best receiver in Luther Burden III (64 for 958, seven TDs).

Missouri’s offense is fifth in the SEC in total yards and scoring.

So, would you rather have UT’s offense or defense on the field in the last two minutes to beat Missouri?

I’ll take the offense in part because I’m not sold on UT’s pass defense.

Also, I can’t ignore that UT has scored 66 and 62 points in the last two meetings. I can’t ignore that UT has averaged over 700 total yards and 361 rush yards per game v. Mizzou.

And I can’t ignore that Josh Heupel’s offense has Missouri’s number.

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