KNOXVILLE — Tennessee will carry a couple of longer losing streaks to traditional football rivals into 2016 after missed opportunities earlier this season.
The Volunteers do have the chance, however, to end a shorter skid against one of the SEC's newest members.
Since Missouri joined the conference in 2012, the Tigers won all three of their meetings with Tennessee and will try to make it four Saturday night in 15th-year coach Gary Pinkel's final home game ahead of his end-of-season retirement.
"They've taken on the personality of their head football coach," Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said Monday. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Pinkel, not just as a coach but also as a person, an individual. I remember being a young coach in the Mid-American Conference (at Central Michigan) when he was the head coach at Toledo.
"Everywhere he's been, he's won. He's done it his way. He's developed programs."
› Tennessee (6-4, 3-3 SEC) at Missouri (5- 5, 1-5)
› Saturday, 7:15 p.m.
› ESPN2 and 106.5 FM
The 63-year-old Pinkel is the winningest coach in Missouri history and helped position the Tigers to make the jump from the Big 12 when the SEC looked to expand. He then answered questions about Missouri's ability to adapt to a more physical and stronger defensive league by winning the East Division twice and making back-to-back SEC championship game appearances.
Those runs the past two seasons included a 31-3 rout of the Vols in Columbia in 2013 and a 29-21 win in Knoxville last season. In 2012, Missouri got its first road win in its new league by rallying from a 14-point deficit, tying the game in the final minute and prevailing in four overtimes. That loss spelled the end for Derek Dooley as the Vols' coach.
Kentucky's 21-13 win in Lexington against Missouri in September left Tennessee as the lone SEC East team without a win against the Tigers, who are 5-5 with just one SEC win (South Carolina) this season.
"They aren't like the biggest, most talented guys, but they play really hard," Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin said. "They're really gritty, warehouse-type guys. They're going to fight you, and that's what I expect from them.
"They play really hard and they make plays when they have to," he added. "Like last year or the beginning of this season with Maty Mauk, he was kind of a quirky kind of quarterback. He did a lot of wild stuff, but when they needed him to make plays, he made plays for them.
"That's kind of the mode of Missouri. When they've got to make plays, they do. And they play great defense."
Missouri is second in the SEC in scoring defense, surrendering a paltry 14.7 points per game, and the Tigers rank third in the conference in total defense behind only Alabama and Florida, two teams that beat Tennessee this season. They are tied for fourth nationally in tackles for loss (87) and are fourth in the SEC in sacks (26) and boast the SEC's top tackler in linebacker Kentrell Brothers.
Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs said twice Monday that the Vols will have to bring their "A-game" against that defense.
"All around they're a very stout defense, a very well-coached defense, a very disciplined defense," he said. "That's how they've been since we've really played them. They're stout up front, strong and experienced in the secondary and they lead the SEC in a lot of categories. We have respect for them, and they do a very good job on the defensive side of the ball."
A whirlwind stretch for the Tigers last week began when members of the team joined in a campus protest that produced the resignation of the school's president over race issues and ended in the announcement Friday of Pinkel's retirement, which inspired a 20-16 win against BYU a little more than 24 hours later.
That game was played in Kansas City, so this will be the first game on campus since those continued protests began.
"All we can worry about is the guys we've got in our locker room," Reeves-Maybin said. "We know they're going to come out and give us a good fight, but if we execute like we've been executing and keep working and holding ourselves to the standard we've been having, we'll be successful."
The Tigers may be more juiced to send Pinkel out a winner in his home finale, but the Vols, who have played at Alabama and Florida this season, downplayed that angle of the matchup.
"Any time a team steps on the field, especially to defend their home turf, they're going to have some extra juice," Dobbs said. "We have to come ready to play. We've played in hostile environments, and this will be another one. It'll be a great opportunity to go out and play the game of football. We're really excited about the opportunity."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.