The big story of Week 10 was the Georgia Bulldogs' stark reminder that the path to a national championship still goes through Kirby Smart's defense. The Tennessee Volunteers, who entered the game as the No.1 ranked team in the country, saw its SEC championship hopes crushed in a 27-13 loss to the Bulldogs. The game was not as close as the score indicated. Josh Heupel's high-powered, potent offense that averaged over 45 points per game against Alabama, Kentucky and LSU didn't find the end zone until the game's final five minutes. The Vols were a miserable 2-of-14 on third downs, averaged only 5.9 yards per pass and gave up six sacks and eight tackles for loss. The Hendon Hooker led-offense raced into the biggest game of the year with the style points of a Lamborghini but now heads back home from Athens feeling more like a lemon.
Tennessee's loss may have pushed it out of the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings, but with Michigan and TCU still with games on the schedule in which they will be significant underdogs, the Vols' story is far from written. Saturday, they take on the stingy Missouri Tigers (4-5, 2-4 SEC) as 20.5-point favorites in a game that presents a solid betting opportunity for a situation that we may see more often in the coming weeks.
Missouri Tigers (+20.5) at Tennessee Volunteers
Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. Heupel didn't have any answers last Saturday, and I doubt that this Tennessee team will be able to brush off such a significant beatdown. The Volunteers are fast and fun, but most importantly, they are exciting and new. There is real fatigue with Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State dominating the national title conversation, and Tennessee gave us something different. We gravitated toward the fact that the Vols hadn't been here in a while.
Unfortunately, all that excitement came crashing down last Saturday in a big way, and I'm betting we see a letdown from a team learning to handle success on the fly this season. It's important to remember that Heupel's Vols got thrust into the natty conversation faster than his offense gets to the line of scrimmage. The Vols were blowing leads to Purdue in the Music City Bowl last year, and now they have to respond to the feeling that beating Alabama wasn't good enough. The euphoria from the fans storming the field and throwing the goalposts in the Tennessee River seems like a distant memory. The emotional crash from the Georgia loss isn't the only reason I'm banking on a letdown because the physical toll may have actually been greater. Georgia beat up Tennessee on both sides of the ball, and there could be some residual effect after that type of loss.
Tennessee can score well into the 40s when it is at peak performance, but I would be surprised if we see that against Missouri. The Tigers' defense is fifth in the conference at preventing explosive plays (33rd nationally) and has been a tough out for even the elite teams in the SEC. They gave Georgia all it could handle in early October in a nail-biting 26-22 loss. The Tigers' defense forced two turnovers and held Georgia's offense to 30% success on third downs.
Missouri has fared well as a big underdog this season. This will be the third time it is a double-digit dog, and it covered both previous games against Georgia (+30.5) and Florida (+11.5). The Tigers are also 3-0 ATS on the road versus SEC opponents, staying within a touchdown in all three games.
The Tigers' pass rush is strong enough to give Hooker some problems. The defense is inside the top 25 nationally in both sack percentage and yards per pass attempt allowed. It's not unreasonable to think the Tigers are capable of slowing down the Vols' offense enough to keep this one from getting out of hand. I am perfectly aware we are signing up for an excruciating sweat, where the clock never moves fast enough and every whistle in the final minutes brings us to our knees. But the situational spot combined with the matchup is too good to pass up at this number. Let's back the big underdog to keep it within three touchdowns.
Stats provided by teamrankings.com.