Vols in bounce-back mode for the first time this season

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Tennessee defensive tackle LaTrell Bumphus brings down Georgia running back Kenny McInstosh during last Saturday’s 27-13 loss to the Bulldogs inside Sanford Stadium. The Volunteers will look to rebound from their first setback this season on Saturday afternoon against visiting Missouri.

The Tennessee Volunteers have proven repeatedly this football season that they can handle success.

How will they handle defeat?

Tennessee's undefeated run ended and ended abruptly last weekend at Georgia, as the Bulldogs applied a 27-13 smothering that was 27-6 for most of the fourth quarter. The Vols had entered Sanford Stadium with an 8-0 record and at No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings, but they are No. 5 entering Saturday's home finale against Missouri and have used up any room for error in their unexpected chase for the national championship.

"You learn a lot about your football team no matter what the circumstance and how they reset and go to the next one," Tennessee second-year coach Josh Heupel said. "From the first day I got here until now, we've learned a lot about our football team. They continue to prove to themselves and to us that they're fierce competitors who are able to handle adversity and reset and move on and get better and grow.

"I don't know if learning something about them is what I'm thinking about this week as much as I believe in who they are, their DNA, and I look forward to seeing that unfold."

This marks the first time Tennessee is playing the week after a setback since last November, when the Vols bounced back from a 41-17 loss to Georgia with a 60-14 throttling of South Alabama. The Vols are playing a much tougher bounce-back foe this time around, and they're expected to face a much tougher Mizzou than the team they routed 62-24 a season ago in Columbia.

Tennessee will host the Tigers before a sixth consecutive home sellout, an amazing feat given that only one game at Neyland Stadium sold out last season.

Missouri enters with a 4-5 overall record, a 2-4 mark in Southeastern Conference play and as a three-touchdown underdog. Yet the Tigers have accomplished something the Vols couldn't, giving Georgia all it wanted before falling 26-22 to the Bulldogs on Oct. 1 at Faurot Field.

"We definitely watched that tape, and they got after them," Vols fifth-year senior left guard Jerome Carvin said. "They played really hard. They had that game at home, so they were able to affect the quarterback. I'm looking forward to this one."

The Tigers have vaulted from 106th nationally in total defense a year ago to 13th under new coordinator Blake Baker. Missouri's defensive improvement has been a prominent storyline this week, but what has Tigers coach Eli Drinkwitz concerned is that the Vols are enhanced on that side of the ball as well.

"The first thing that jumps off the page is that they're a veteran group," Drinkwitz said. "It seems like everybody in their two-deep is a redshirt senior, a senior or a redshirt junior. They are guys with a lot of experience, and they've got experience in this league. They play downhill, and they play really fast.

"When they get a lead, they seem to be even more aggressive and more downhill."

Last year's game was over in a flash, with Tennessee taking a 28-3 lead after one quarter and a 45-10 advantage into halftime. Anything similar would certainly be a plus for the Vols in the eyes of the CFP selection committee, which has provided Heupel, his assistants and players their latest challenge.

"The reason our program has climbed, in particular this year, is just the consistency of our habits and how we approach every day," Heupel said. "Our guys have been true to that. They're competitors, and they understand what's in front of us."


Odds and ends

The felony aggravated assault case involving Vols senior safety Jaylen McCollough will be sent to a grand jury after Knox County Judge Andrew Jackson VI on Thursday denied a request by Chloe Akers, McCollough's attorney, to have it dismissed. ... Tennessee will wear orange jerseys and white pants for the fourth time this year, having already knocked off Ball State, Florida and Alabama in that uniform combination. ... The kickoff time on CBS is 12:08 p.m. ... The Vols have 22 commitments for the 2023 signing cycle, with their class currently No. 11 n the 247Sports.com.com rankings. The most recent Tennessee commitment is three-star interior offensive lineman Vysen Lang (6-foot-4, 335 pounds) of Pike Road, Alabama.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.