Missouri may feel as if it's back in the Big 12 this week.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Missouri may feel as if it's back in the Big 12 this week.
Watching highlights of Tennessee certainly reminds Missouri of the high-scoring Big 12 games it played just about every week before moving to the Southeastern Conference this year.
Tennessee has averaged 36.8 points per game and has allowed 35.4 points per game while utilizing the same type of uptempo offense favored by many Big 12 programs.
The Volunteers will be seeking their first SEC victory of the season Saturday when the Tigers come to Neyland Stadium.
"It kind of takes me back to the Big 12 a little bit, as far as them passing the ball," Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines said. "We haven't really gotten that so far, being in the SEC. it just kind of takes us back to the Oklahoma, Oklahoma State days and stuff like that, so it's going to be fun."
The unusual aspect of this matchup is that longtime SEC member Tennessee (4-5, 0-5 SEC) has a Big 12-style approach while Missouri (4-5, 1-5) is the league newcomer playing the brand of football more typically associated with the SEC.
Like most of the top SEC programs, Missouri relies on a powerful defensive line. Led by standout defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, the Tigers have allowed a total of 24 points in their last two games and gave Florida all it could handle in Gainesville last week before falling 14-7.
"They are playing great defense," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. "They really are. Big-time defense. Look at them rankings-wise. Look at what they did to Florida."
Missouri's problem is that it isn't moving the ball nearly as well as usual.
The Tigers have scored at least 29 points per game each of the last seven seasons, but that streak likely will end this year. Missouri has tallied just 22.4 points per game so far this season. The Tigers rank 12th out of 14 SEC teams in points per game and yards per game (319.3).
Missouri quarterback James Franklin has dealt with a knee injury this year and is coming off a four-interception performance against Florida. T.J. Moe, who compiled a combined 1,694 receiving yards in 2010 and 2011, has 30 catches for only 270 yards and one touchdown so far this season.
"Our football team, if we prepare and we do the right things, I think we can compete with anybody," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "And certainly we're as physical as anybody. But we've got to finish."
Tennessee's defense may offer just the prescription to cure Missouri's slumping offense.
The Vols have allowed at least 37 points in each of their five conference games this season. Tennessee beat Troy 55-48 last week in a game that featured the most combined yards and the second-highest point total in school history. Dooley, whose primary background as an assistant was on offense, vowed to take a more active role in the defense this week.
"They've had a few struggles on defense," Pinkel said, "but we've had a few struggles on offense."
Tennessee's offense isn't struggling at all.
Tyler Bray threw for a school-record 530 yards against Troy and has nine touchdown passes with only one interception over his last two games. Justin Hunter caught nine passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns in the Troy game, while Zach Rogers had three touchdown catches a week earlier in a 38-35 loss to South Carolina. Cordarrelle Patterson leads the SEC with 1,292 all-purpose yards.
That offense should have plenty of confidence after gaining a school-record 718 yards against Troy and scoring two touchdowns in the final three minutes to rally from a seven-point deficit.
"It finally showed that our offense can finish the game, that we are not going to go down to the wire and lose like we have in the past," Bray said. "We can go through and actually finish the game."
Missouri and Tennessee aren't similar teams, but they do have one thing in common. Neither has met preseason expectations. Both teams still have a shot at a bowl bid and are eager for the opportunity to get back to .500.
"They're a quality SEC team," Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera said. "Their record, I don't really think it speaks for the kind of (team) they are, kind of like us."