Missouri’s Defense Has a Tough Task Against Tennessee’s Ground Attack

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No. 14 Missouri will look to bounce back as they host No. 13 Tennessee at Faurot Field on Saturday. Both teams sit at 7-2 heading into this weekend’s matchup. For the Tigers to take sole possession of second place in the SEC East, the defense needs to figure out how to contain the Volunteers’ talented ground attack.

Tennessee’s Explosive Running Game

Blake Baker’s defense will have their hands full on Saturday against UT’s rushing offense. Tennessee is ranked third in the nation in this category, averaging 227.8 yards per game. Josh Huepel’s offense has 17 rushing touchdowns on the season and averages 5.77 yards per carry. 

Blake Baker (@CoachBlakeBaker) / X

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Running back Jaylen Wright is the rushing leader for the Volunteers. He has recorded 826 yards and three touchdowns through nine games this season, which is good for 26th in the country. Wright is coming off a strong performance in UT’s 59-3 victory over UConn last week, with 113 yards and a touchdown. His lone touchdown in the game was an 82-yard dash in the first minute. The junior also rushed for 136 yards in UT’s hard fought 20-13 win over Texas A&M last month. 

Along with Wright, Joey Halzle’s offense also gets quality rushing yards from senior RB Jabari Small. Small is coming into this Saturday’s contest with 415 rushing yards and two touchdowns in back-to-back victories over the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and South Carolina. Dylan Sampson is also a talented rusher for UT, with 405 yards and seven touchdowns. His most impressive performance of the year so far came in Tennessee’s 45-14 win over UTSA in September, where he rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, quarterback Joe Milton III is dangerous running the ball as well. He has 265 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns on the season.

Jabari Small explains the difficulty of playing through shoulder injury - On3

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Missouri’s Run Defense

The Tigers’ defense has been solid in stopping the run this year. Missouri is ranked 24th in the nation in run defense, allowing 114.3 rushing yards per game. The team has only allowed five rushing touchdowns this season.

The Tigers’ defensive group has had some impressive performances against opposing rushing offenses this season. In Missouri’s 35-10 season-opening victory over South Dakota, Mizzou held the Coyotes to just 46 yards on the ground. The Tigers also allowed just 41 rushing yards to Vanderbilt in their win over the Commodores in September. However, Baker’s defense has also had some situations where they struggled to stop the run. They gave up 274 yards on the ground in their 49-39 loss to LSU. Kansas State’s ground attack caused some issues for Missouri’s run defense by putting up 138 rushing yards, though the Tigers would win in a thriller 30-27.

What we learned from No. 1 Georgia's comeback win against Missouri

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Mizzou’s defensive linemen are going to need big games this weekend. DL Darius Robinson will look to play a role, as he has 32 tackles (22 solo) and leads the team with 5.5 sacks. Junior Johnny Walker Jr. will also be heavily relied on against the Volunteers’ ground attack. He has 22 solo tackles and four sacks this season. Missouri will need big performances from their linebackers, with Chuck Hicks and Chad Bailey leading the position. DLs Nyles Gaddy, Realus George Jr., Jayden Jernigan, and Kristian Williams will aim to play critical roles.

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