Tennessee has a big road game this week.
The Vols are headed to Missouri to face the No. 14 Tigers.
This game matters for Tennessee for several reasons.
First, the Vols need the win to remain in contention for the SEC East. (The Vols will also need help from Ole Miss against Georgia on Saturday night.)
Tennessee is also trying to reach 10 wins again and maintain its position as the top challenger to Georgia.
The Vols also need this win to show they’ve exorcised some of their road demons.
Tennessee won at Kentucky two weeks ago.
But this win would come against a ranked opponent. That would add value to a win away from Neyland Stadium.
How has Tennessee performed on the road against ranked teams since Josh Heupel took over the program in 2021?
Let’s take a closer look.
Week 4 at No. 11 Florida: Gators 38, Tennessee 14
This was Josh Heupel’s first road game as Tennessee’s head coach.
The Vols went to Gainesville receiving no outside shot at beating Florida – the Gators were favored by 19 points.
But Tennessee kept this game competitive until late in the third quarter.
With Florida holding a 24-14 lead, Tennessee went for a fourth-and-5 midway through the third quarter.
Heupel called a beautiful play that opened receiver Jimmy Calloway for a long catch-and-run… but he dropped the ball.
The Gators proceeded to drive the field and score, and they never looked back.
Would Tennessee have had a shot to pull the upset if Calloway caught the ball?
Many Tennessee fans still say yes, but we’ll never know.
Heupel did show he could be competitive – even if just for a stretch – away from home against a more talented team.
Week 8 at No. 4 Alabama: Crimson Tide 52, Tennessee 24
No one expected Tennessee to have a chance to win this game.
Tennessee was able to hang in there with Alabama during the first half.
A long touchdown pass to JaVonta Payton late in the first quarter gave the Vols a 14-7 lead.
“Maybe this offense can work against Nick Saban’s defense,” fans started to say.
Alabama outscored Tennessee 28-7 to cruise to a 52-24 win.
But the Vols’ performance in Tuscaloosa gave themselves a reason to believe they were headed in the right direction.
Week 10 at No. 18 Kentucky: Tennessee 45, Kentucky 42
This was an important road win for Heupel’s first season at Tennessee.
The Vols don’t lose to Kentucky, no matter the circumstance.
That’s not exactly true if you look at the record – but it’s the mindset of Tennessee’s fanbase.
The Vols were challenged by Kentucky, which decided it better increase its aggressiveness to keep up with Tennessee’s offense.
And that was the big takeaway from the game.
The win was nice.
But Kentucky coach Mark Stoops sent a warning to the SEC when he decided he wouldn’t be able to stop Tennessee’s offense.
Tennessee went on the road and dictated the way that game would be played.
It was a huge confidence boost for Tennessee’s program.
Players started to believe Heupel would give them a chance to win anywhere.
Week 2 at No. 17 Pittsburgh: Tennessee 34, Pittsburgh 27 (OT)
This one put a scare into Tennessee fans.
The Vols’ offense struggled in the second half and had to be bailed out by the defense.
After taking a 24-17 lead into halftime, Tennessee managed only three points in the second half.
Was this a sign of things to come for the Vols away from home?
It’s worth noting Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi had plenty of experience facing Josh Heupel’s offense.
The two squared off twice when Heupel coached at UCF, and Pitt beat Tennessee in Knoxville in 2021.
The Vols escaped Pittsburgh with a win in overtime, but it wasn’t a game Tennessee fans would brag about as the season went along.
Week 6 at No. 25 LSU: Tennessee 40, LSU 13
This was a statement win by Tennessee.
The Vols went to Baton Rouge – historically one of the toughest places in college football to play – and took over Tiger Stadium.
It looked like Tennessee’s guest house by the time the game ended.
After future road losses (which we’ll get to), this is the game Tennessee fans would point to for a “yeah but” to questions about the Vols on the road.
There is one qualifier to this win at LSU: the game took place early in the day.
An 11 a.m. local kickoff did not allow LSU fans to prepare as they normally do.
Would Tennessee have still beaten LSU later in the day?
I say yes, although probably not by such a decisive margin.
But the Vols caught a break with the early kickoff.
Week 10 at No. 1 Georgia: Bulldogs 27, Tennessee 13
This game did not go well for Tennessee.
Georgia dominated every way it could.
The crowd overwhelmed Tennessee.
And Georgia’s players looked like a team motivated to prove it was still the nation’s best team after Tennessee had been chosen as the No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff ranking.
The biggest reason Georgia won this game was its talent advantage.
The Bulldogs had a superior roster. And their execution kept Tennessee from doing what it wanted to offensively.
The Vols had no answers for Georgia.
It was a reminder that while Tennessee’s program had made a big jump, it hadn’t returned all the way to the top.
The road atmosphere made the gap too much to overcome.
Week 8 at No. 11 Alabama: Crimson Tide 34, Tennessee 20
Here’s the good report: Tennessee handled Alabama’s crowd just fine.
Here’s the bad report: Only for the first half.
Alabama came out in the second half and took it to Tennessee.
Did Tennessee get comfortable after taking a 20-7 lead into halftime?
That might have been the case, both with players and coaches.
The Vols collapsed in the second half, which brought up more questions about Tennessee handling a road environment.
Tennessee has a 3-4 record on the road against ranked opponents under Heupel.
That’s not terrible considering the Vols had virtually no chance in a couple of games in 2021.
But it’s been more than a year since Tennessee beat a ranked team on the road.
Missouri will be motivated to beat Tennessee for the first time since 2018.
Tennessee will be motivated to win on the road – for several reasons.