Q&A: Tennessee football writer previews Saturday’s game

In a conversation with The Maneater, Trenton Duffer breaks down the SEC matchup between Missouri and Tennessee.
The Missouri defensive line prepares for a play against Vanderbilt on Nov. 12.

Missouri faces Tennessee at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in a Southeastern Conference matchup in Knoxville, Tennessee. Trenton Duffer, who covers football for The Daily Beacon, spoke with The Maneater’s Nick Kelly about what to expect Saturday. The transcript has been lightly edited for style and clarity.

The Maneater: Do you think Tennessee has underachieved or overachieved?

Trenton Duffer: There is no question they have underachieved. I think the losses to Texas A&M and Alabama were kind of expected, but that loss to South Carolina really threw everybody for a loop. If you take that loss out and make it a win, that is a two-loss Tennessee team likely in the top 15 of the college football playoff rankings.

That would mean Tennessee would have pretty much clinched the SEC East already if they were to beat Missouri this weekend. It is definitely an underachieving season. People aren’t happy with the way things are, but people are kind of blaming injuries for that. Injuries have been everywhere this year.

Just about everyone of Tennessee’s main position players have been injured in some form or fashion, except for Josh Dobbs, and I think that is it. Really, Josh Dobbs is the only one who hasn’t been injured. It has definitely been an underachieving year.

ME: What is the current state of this team? What are their aspirations? How are they approaching things at this point in the season?

TD: Well, Butch Jones, he is a cliche machine. He will get out there every week and say the same thing: “We are looking to go 1-0 this week.” He doesn’t focus too much on the past, and that is a good thing. He doesn’t focus too much on the past, and he is always focusing on the next matchup.

I don’t know how closely you follow the SEC East race, but if Florida loses to LSU, and Tennessee beats Missouri this week, then all Tennessee has to do is beat Vanderbilt to go to the SEC Championship.

The Florida game is at 1 p.m. Eastern time. A lot of people have asked Butch if they are going to watch that game and keep an eye on it and scoreboard watch. Butch Jones said, “No, we are not going to scoreboard watch. We are only focused on Missouri.” Butch does a good job of keeping his team focused on the team ahead of him. He is not worried too much about outside distractions.

ME: What does Tennessee fear most about this Missouri team?

TD: I think it is the passing offense. Butch actually said this week that he believes Missouri’s wideouts are the best wideouts the team has faced all year. That is in the same conversation with Alabama, Texas A&M, even Virginia Tech who has Isaiah Ford. He is really worried about the pass defense. The run defense is weak here in Tennessee. The Vols allowed 443 rushing yards to Kentucky this past week. That was just three yards off of their school record, which has stood since 1951. So, the rushing defense is struggling, but Butch seems pretty confident it is going to get better. But they are afraid of that Missouri passing attack.

ME: What does Missouri need to fear most about Tennessee?

TD: I’ll give you an offensive and defensive weapon. On offense, the biggest threat, I believe, is [quarterback] Josh Dobbs. Dobbs is going to beat you with his legs and his arm. He is a dangerous quarterback. He had nearly 400 yards of total offense last week. He can shred you through the air if you let him, but if you sit back and sit in zone coverage, then he will just run. The rushing attack in Tennessee is really good too, but it is mainly Josh Dobbs being a great leader. This is his last game in Neyland Stadium. He is looking to go out with a bang.

On defense, it is no question Derek Barnett. Kentucky triple-teamed him last week, but he was still getting into the backfield with ease. Pro Football Focus had him going to the Jaguars with the fourth overall pick in next year’s NFL draft. Barnett has not gone out and said he is going out for the draft, but it is likely he will. Barnett will be gone next year, but this year, he is two sacks away from tying Reggie White’s all-time UT record. Barnett is currently first among active players in career sacks. I mean, he is a beast. He is just a beast. He really is. He is a fantastic player, and it has been amazing covering him these past couple of years. He’ll disrupt Missouri’s passing offense in just about every way.

ME: What is your prediction for this game?

TD: With Dobbs being as good as he is, I think he has a big day. The crowd is going to be insane because this is the last game of Josh Dobbs and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who won’t be playing. He is out for the season. It is the last game of Cam Sutton, likely the last game of Derek Barnett, likely the last game for Alvin Kamara. All these players, all these great fan-favorite players, this is it. I think that on that stage, Tennessee is going to be ready to just really dominate Missouri.

But I will say this: If Florida beats LSU, I think it will be a lot closer than people think. If Florida beats LSU and Tennessee is well out of the SEC East title, I think Tennessee wins the game 31-27. If Florida loses to LSU, I think Tennessee wins the game 41-24. I really like Dobbs having a big day, but it all depends on the Florida-LSU game, truthfully. If Florida wins the SEC East again, then I think all of the air comes out of Tennessee’s sail. They would really limp into the Vanderbilt game.

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