Vols have struggled before against talented Mizzou offensive trios

Missouri Athletics photo / Missouri fifth-year senior running back Cody Schrader leads the Southeastern Conference with 102.11 rushing yards per game entering Saturday's contest against visiting Tennessee, which tops the league in run defense.
Missouri Athletics photo / Missouri fifth-year senior running back Cody Schrader leads the Southeastern Conference with 102.11 rushing yards per game entering Saturday's contest against visiting Tennessee, which tops the league in run defense.

The Missouri Tigers have largely been a .500 football team since joining the Southeastern Conference more than a decade ago.

Yet they've also been known to cycle up some stout offenses, with the common theme being a quality quarterback, running back and receiver. That is certainly the case this season, as the St. Louis trio of redshirt junior Brady Cook, fifth-year senior Cody Schrader and sophomore Luther Burden III have guided the Tigers to an impressive 7-2 record and a No. 16 national ranking entering this Saturday afternoon's showdown (3:30 on CBS) against No. 14 Tennessee at Faurot Field.

Mizzou is averaging a healthy 434.1 yards per contest and has scored at least 21 points in every game, with its lowest output coming in last weekend's 30-21 loss at top-ranked Georgia.

"They are doing a really good job of playing team offense," Tennessee defensive line coach Rodney Garner said Tuesday in a news conference. "It starts with their quarterback. He's a really good player with good command presence. That guy can lead."

The Tigers are the only SEC team to have a quarterback, running back and receiver ranked among the top 20 at their position.

Cook has completed 183 of 271 passes (67.5%) for 2,471 yards with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions to rank 20th nationally. The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder threw for 221 yards and rushed for 106 yards during last season's game in Knoxville, when he got the Tigers within 28-24 midway through the third quarter before Tennessee stunningly scored the final 38 points of a 66-24 slaughter.

"He is smart, he is accurate with the football and he is athletic," Volunteers head coach Josh Heupel said. "He has the ability to affect the game with his feet, so we have to affect him and not let him be comfortable in the pocket. While doing that, you cannot let him escape the pocket.

"He'll be dynamic and will make big plays with his feet and his arm as he breaks contain. He's obviously a part of their run game, too, and can hurt you there."

Schrader has rushed 162 times for 919 yards (5.7 per carry) and 10 touchdowns, with his 102.11 yards per game ranking 12th in the country, but the 5-9, 214-pounder was limited to 25 yards on 10 carries during last year's game at Tennessee.

In their last outing against a conference foe, the Vols were able to hold Kentucky's Ray Davis to 42 yards on 16 carries, and they lead the league in run defense, allowing 97.33 yards per game. Garner said Tuesday that Davis and Schrader have plenty of similarities.

"This guy may be a tad more physical, where the guy at Kentucky was faster," he said. "They both do a really good job of pressing the blocks, finding the soft spots, squaring their shoulders and then getting downhill."

Burden scored a first-quarter touchdown in last year's pairing but wound up with just three catches for 19 yards. The 5-11, 208-pound former five-star signee has been anything but pedestrian this season, erupting for 64 receptions for 958 yards (14.97 per catch) and seven touchdowns to rank seventh nationally.

"When he gets the ball in his hands, he's difficult to bring down," Heupel said. "They do a good job of moving him around, too, where you have to track where he is. They try to find matchups for him. We have to do a great job against him, but he's not their only wide receiver.

"They have a really good core group of wide receivers who are dynamic."

This year's offensive successes have evoked memories of Missouri's 2013 and 2017 teams that piled up points under the coaching regimes of Gary Pinkel and Barry Odom.

Mizzou rode the trio of quarterback James Franklin, running back Henry Josey and receiver Dorial Green-Beckham to the 2013 SEC East title in just its second season after bolting from the Big XII Conference, which included a 31-3 rout of the Vols. Josey rushed for 1,166 yards, 6.7 yards per carry and 12 touchdowns that year, while Green-Beckham amassed 883 yards and 12 scores.

Four years later, Drew Lock set an SEC record with 44 touchdown tosses -- it would be broken two seasons later by LSU's Joe Burrow -- while Ish Witter tallied 1,049 rushing yards and J'Mon Moore racked up 1,082 receiving yards. The 2017 Tigers hammered Tennessee 50-17 in Columbia behind Witter's 216 rushing yards and the play-calling of Heupel, who was in his second and final season as Mizzou's offensive coordinator before leaving to become the head coach at UCF.


Simmons shining

After an injury-riddled start to the season, Tennessee fifth-year senior nose tackle Elijah Simmons is getting busier and busier each Saturday.

In last weekend's 59-3 drubbing of Connecticut, the 6-2, 340-pounder from Memphis collected four tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.

"I was just doing what is asked of me," Simmons said Tuesday. "I was trying to get vertical. I was just doing what is asked of me, and it showed up in the game."

Said Garner: "He probably did play his best game since we've been here, but there is still much room for improvement."


Superb showdown

Mizzou coach Eli Drinkwitz said Tuesday during his weekly news conference that he was informed this is the first top-16 matchup at Faurot Field since 1979.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.


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