KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) — The surging Tennessee football team, winners of four of its last five games, heads to Columbia, Missouri Saturday to face a struggling group of Tigers who’ve lost their last four games.
Over the past 4 weeks Mizzou is averaging less than 7 points per game, in fact, the Tigers have scored only 13 points in its last three games. Despite that, Missouri is about a touchdown favorite on its home turf Saturday night.
Preparing for action after last week’s open weekend, Tennessee has narrowed its focus to executing a complete game for its last two outings in regular season play. Head coach Jeremy Pruitt is confident in the team’s desire to continue its upward trajectory if it takes care of the details and keeps its internal fight saying, “I’ve said this all along, this group of guys enjoys being around each other, we enjoy being around them and we still as a team have a lot to prove and our guys are looking forward to having the opportunity to try being our best on Saturday,” Pruitt said at his Monday press conference. “We have yet to play our best game, we have yet to, in my opinion, play a complete game. So, we have lots of things as a staff, as individual players, as a team, we have a lot to prove and this is a great opportunity to do it.”
Despite the team’s uptick, including winning four of its last five games and collecting a handful of individual weekly honors in that span, the Vols have more work to do and are not content with where they are yet.
“If they think that, then they are walking around with blinders on,” Pruitt said when asked if he was worried about the team being satisfied. “I mean, we have showed them lots of ways we can improve offensively, defensively and on special teams. I am pretty sure our guys understand that.
“I think that is one of the things we have improved on as a football team is just self-awareness. We know our limitations, our strengths, where we are at and where we are not. If you know those things, you can fix things.”
WARRIOR FINDS HIS STRIDE
Senior DB Nigel Warrior currently sits atop of the SEC with four interceptions along with three other players, and his 58 tackles are the second most for the Vols.
The College Park, Ga., native recorded three of those interceptions across the last five games, including a momentum-shifting pick in the second quarter at Kentucky which halted a Wildcat drive near midfield to keep UK scoreless the remainder of the first half and eventually the rest of the game.
On Warrior Pruitt said, “Nigel has continued to work hard every day at practice,” Pruitt said. “He’s been a really good leader for us. He has improved tremendously from last year to this year and he continues to get better. He’s playing his best football right now.
“He’s kind of turning into a complete player, whether it’s playing the ball, playing man-to-man, or tackling in space, he has improved and continues to improve in all of those areas. Like everybody else, he wants to play his best game this next week. So, he’s going to work hard to do it this week.”
Warrior has been named to the PFF College SEC Team of the Week of two occasions and on the PFF’s National Team of the Week once.
VOLS WILL FACE BIG CHALLENGE
The Vols will face another solid quarterback this week in Mizzou’s Kelly Bryant who ranks sixth in the SEC with a 62.50 completion percentage and 2,049 passing yards. Bryant, a transfer from Clemson, also has the ability to run and will put some pressure on UT’s defensive line.
“I’m very familiar with Kelly Bryant, I coached against him when he was at Clemson,” Pruitt said. “The guy is extremely athletic and can extend plays. He has a big arm. When you look at Missouri offensively, they’re really big and strong and physical up front.
“If you look at what (Kelly Bryant) is doing now at Missouri versus what he did at Clemson, they are a bit different offensively, but you can see that Missouri has done a few things to cater to what he does best.”
The Tigers are currently on the a four-game losing streak, but have managed to keep some of the nation’s top-scoring teams under 30 points and lost their first home game of the season against Florida last weekend.
Missouri has the SEC’s top-ranked pass defense and the nation’s 10th-ranked overall defense. Coach Pruitt added, “They’re a team that is 5-1 at home,” Pruitt said. “The game was really close against Florida and a couple of things didn’t go their way down the stretch. They’re very good against the pass and creating negative plays. They have playmakers and have always had a history of having really good pass rushers and when you look at them especially on the defensive side of the ball, they haven’t given up hardly any points.”
Pruitt added, “They’re a team that’s really kind of dominated this series (against us) in the past, so it’ll be a good opportunity for our guys to go on the road and play a good football team that’s very well coached.”