🏈 Tennessee's big 2023 swing game

Can the Vols finish strong away from home?

Hello. This is the Josh and Swain Newsletter, a quick roundup of the week’s top stories and topics involving Tennessee and the sports world.

Here’s what we have for you today:

  • Can the Vols keep their SEC East hopes alive this week?

  • Stats that could matter in the Tennessee-Mizzou matchup

  • The next step in Michigan’s battle with the Big Ten

  • More hype for Tennessee basketball before a big road game

A BIGGER-THAN-EXPECTED MISSOURI GAME

Jaylen Wright (0) is making a run at the SEC’s rushing title

Who expected this Tennessee-Missouri game to mean so much at the start of the season?

The Vols will play their final true road game of the season on Saturday with a lot on the line.

📍 Columbia, Mo.
3:30 p.m. ET
📺 CBS
📻 99.1 The Sports Animal / WIVK

Tennessee is still alive in the SEC East race.

The Vols have to win out to have a shot at the conference championship.

And Tennessee needs Ole Miss to beat Georgia on Saturday night so UT can play Georgia for the East title next week.

Yes, Tennessee and Lane Kiffin are once again aligned.

But you can remove Tennessee’s SEC East hopes and this Saturday’s game still means a lot.

A win on Saturday would give the Vols a good shot at 10 wins, either in the regular season or with a bowl victory.

Before last season, Tennessee had to go back 15 years to find its last 10-win season.

They have a shot to do it in consecutive seasons.

That’s a morale booster for the program.

It can also lead to more success on the recruiting trail.

So what does Tennessee need to do to win at Missouri?

Here are a few ideas.

1️⃣ Success in the running game

Missouri’s defense is allowing 114.33 rushing yards per game, fifth best in the SEC.

How much has Missouri’s run defense improved under coach Eli Drinkwitz?

Two years ago, the Tigers allowed more than 227 yards per game — twice the amount PER GAME that Mizzou allows now.

Can Tennessee run with success this week?

The Vols’ performances against Texas A&M and Kentucky say yes.

Against Missouri, Tennessee ran for 458 (!) and 256 yards in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

Another reason to believe in Tennessee’s running game: quarterback Joe Milton III.

His threat to run adds another element for opposing defenses to worry about — and helps create a rhythm for the Vols’ offense.

2️⃣ Contain Missouri QB Brady Cook

Cook has improved as a passer while maintaining his ability to make plays with his legs.

Last year, Cook ran for 106 yards against Tennessee.

His ability to extend plays and drives can wear on a defense.

Cook’s passing has gone to another level this season.

He’s improved his completion percentage, yards per attempt average, and touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Tennessee’s defense will try to pressure Cook to disrupt his passing threat.

But the Vols will have to keep Cook from taking off and making plays with his legs.

Fans have seen this movie too many times.

3️⃣ What’s Luther Burden’s status?

Drinkwitz described wide receiver Luther Burden III as questionable earlier this week.

Burden suffered an injury last week against Georgia but played through it.

It’s difficult to believe Burden won’t play this week. But how effective will he be?

Burden has been a monster this season.

He’s on pace to catch more than 90 passes and averages more than 100 receiving yards per game.

Theo Wease Jr. is another serious threat at receiver.

But Burden is the one who changes an opposing defense’s plan.

“I know we gotta stop No. 3,” VFL and former Tennessee cornerback Jonathan Wade said this week. “Oh my gosh — we gotta find him and stop him every play.”

Watch to see how Burden (No. 3) is moving early in the game.

So who will win?

Oddsmakers made this game a close one, some books setting the opening line at a pick or even favoring Missouri.

The line quickly moved in Tennessee’s direction, and the computers favor the Vols.

Allan Bell of SportsLine told us on Thursday that 10,000 simulations resulted in Tennessee winning 35-30.

It will likely take that amount of points for the Vols to return home with a win.

Tennessee has scored more than 60 points each of the last two seasons against Missouri.

Don’t expect THAT kind of offensive success.

But perhaps Milton and receiver Squirrel White can recreate their late-game connection from a year ago.

Missouri probably hasn’t forgotten about that play.

The Vols will need a couple like them this week.

STATS THAT MATTER

The Vols need more wins in the trenches this weekend

There are other comparisons between Tennessee and Missouri that make this matchup interesting.

Let’s take a look at a few.

➡️ Red Zone Offense

Tennessee’s red-zone offense has taken a nosedive from last season.

In 2022, the Vols had the SEC’s second-best conversion rate and the best touchdown rate in the red zone.

This year, the Vols have the SEC’s ninth-best conversion rate and are last in touchdown rate in the red zone.

Missouri has the league’s best red-zone conversion rate this season. The Tigers have scored on 37 of their 38 red-zone trips this season.

Mizzou is third best in the SEC in red-zone touchdown rate.

This is a lot of percentages. So what does it mean?

Tennessee needs to turn more red-zone trips into touchdowns instead of field goals.

The Vols were 4-for-4 on field goal attempts at Kentucky.

That’s great. But Tennessee needs to focus on scoring touchdowns — and stopping Missouri from getting theirs — when red-zone opportunities show up.

➡️ Tennessee’s defensive front

The Vols lead the SEC in rushing offense and defense.

Tennessee’s defensive front has played at a high level this season, wreaking havoc since Week 1.

Tennessee’s defense is No. 3 in sacks and No. 2 in tackles for loss in the SEC this season.

Missouri’s offensive line has done a good job of protecting Cook; the Tigers have allowed the fourth fewest amount of sacks this season.

Can Tennessee get to Cook? Can the Vols cause a bunch of negative plays for Missouri?

That could go a long way in slowing Missouri’s offense, which also features Cody Schrader, the SEC’s leading rusher with 102 yards per game.

➡️ Penalties

You can come up with your own opinions on officiating in the SEC and college football.

But penalties have been a problem for Tennessee.

The Vols have been called for the most penalties per game in the SEC.

Tennessee had the most penalties in the SEC last season and ranked 11th in the league in 2021.

It’s been a problem under Heupel, whose UCF teams dealt with penalty issues as well.

Will it be a factor this week?

Fans are always bracing for impact when it comes to officiating.

Tennessee needs to avoid mistakes that could make winning on the road more difficult than it already is.

SPORTS NUGGETS

🏈 What’s next in the battle between Michigan/Jim Harbaugh and the Big Ten? Here’s a look at what could happen next.

🏈 Kiffin explained why he’s taking a looser approach to this game at Georgia after being too uptight leading up to previous big games.

🏈 The NFL will allow draft-eligible underclassmen to participate in college all-star games.

Here’s something you don’t see often: NC State starting quarterback MJ Morris will sit the rest of the season to preserve his redshirt.

🏀 Three out of four ESPN experts picked Tennessee to reach the Final Four.

🏀 The Lady Vols led No. 18 Florida State with a minute to go but lost by one. Here’s a highlight package of the game that came down to the final shot.

The Brewers-Cubs rivalry intensified with the Cubs hiring away manager Craig Counsell.

ATTABOY TO ONE OF THE NFL’S BEST

Ravens TE Mark Andrews via Baltimore Magazine

We hand out an attaboy (or attagirl) each day on Josh and Swain.

The goal is to highlight a positive story and/or recognize someone doing good.

One of our attaboys this week went to Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews.

Andrews is one of the best players in the NFL.

He also has an unusual challenge: battling type 1 diabetes while playing professional sports.

This isn’t news; Andrews has discussed his routine to prepare to play with T1D previously.

But the video below went viral this week, and we thought it would be a good time to highlight Andrews.

Hopefully, his story will inspire young people — or people at any age — who are battling a similar obstacle.

SKY-HIGH POTENTIAL FOR TENNESSEE HOOPS

Jordan Gainey provides more offense off Tennessee’s bench

Tennessee’s basketball team will face its first regular season test on Friday night at Wisconsin.

📍 Madison, Wisc.
9:00 p.m. ET
📺 Peacock
📻 AM 990 The Sports Animal / 107.7 FM WIVK

Yes, you’ll need access to the streaming service Peacock to watch this game.

The Vols opened the season with an easy 80-42 win over Tennessee Tech on Monday.

Wisconsin presents a bigger challenge.

KenPom ranks the Badgers No. 16 in the country (Tennessee is No. 9, per KenPom).

The Vols are favored by two points as of Friday morning.

Wisconsin has an offense that’s expected to be one of the nation’s best — a nice early test for Rick Barnes’ stellar defense.

The Wisconsin game will also give Tennessee a chance to show off its new weapons on the offensive end.

The arrival of transfers Jordan Gainey and Dalton Knecht combined with Tennessee’s returning players has created a lot of excitement

The Sports Nuggets link shows three ESPN experts picking Tennessee to reach the Final Four this season.

Then ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg chose the Vols earlier this week when he was asked to pick a team to win the national title.

“They’ve got great depth. They’re playing with much greater flow. They’re playing in transition. They have more shot-makers. You know they’re going to defend. I think Tennessee makes a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.”

Tennessee is still growing — or at least molding together — as a team.

Every team can say the same at this time of the season.

But the return of Zakai Zeigler at point guard to go with all the other pieces has a lot of people talking about the Vols.

And not just in Knoxville.

There’s still some postseason anxiety for Tennessee fans because of disappointing results from past NCAA tournaments.

But you know what?

The NCAA Tournament starts in March. And today is Nov 10.

Let’s see what this team is capable of in the meantime.

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