The statistical comps for this Saturday’s matchup between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Missouri Tigers are all over the place. Part of the noise is likely due to Tennessee’s accelerated improvement curve under Jeremy Pruitt.
Another factor contributing to the noise, though, appears to be solely on Missouri’s side. The Tigers seem to be as likely to pile up numbers by rolling over opponents when they find something that works as they are to simply get beat by teams as good or better than they are. They scored 65 points against Memphis but only 14 against Kentucky. Even against similarly good teams, there’s a huge variance: Against No. 1 Alabama, they scored only 10 points, but against No. 2 Georgia, they put up 29.
So, the SPM thinks that Missouri is going to easily cover the Vegas spread this week, but I’m highly suspicious of its nearly 23-point spread. I’m still thinking Missouri wins, but in a much closer game. And yet, if the Tigers find something they can exploit against the Vols, they’ll convert that into a bunch of points.
SPM: Missouri 39.5, Tennessee 16.8 (Missouri, -22.7)
Eye- and gut-adjusted: Missouri 31, Tennessee 27 (Missouri, -4)
Tennessee rushing yards: 180
Missouri rushing yards: 110
Tennessee passing yards: 240
Missouri passing yards: 280
Tennessee points: 27
Missouri points: 31
Tennessee is averaging 136.4 rushing yards per game, while Missouri is giving up 134.1 per game. The closest comparison, for a prior Tennessee opponent that is not as good at run defense as is Missouri, is Kentucky, which is giving up 141.4 yards per game on the ground. Tennessee got 215 against them. The closest comparison for a prior Tennessee opponent that is better at defending the run than Missouri is Georgia, which is allowing 131.0. Tennessee got 66 on the ground against Georgia.
I believe the Vols’ run game has improved since Georgia, so I’m angling for something closer to last week. My guess for rushing yards for Tennessee against Missouri is 180.
The Tennessee defense is allowing 152.7 rushing yards per game, while the Missouri run game is averaging 195.9 yards per game. The closest “not-as-good” comparison for a prior Tennessee opponent is Kentucky, which is getting 187.3 yards per game on the ground, and they got 77 against Tennessee. The closest “better-than” comparison for a prior Tennessee opponent is Florida, which is averaging 203.1 rushing yards per game and got 201 against Tennessee.
So, early in the season, Florida got its average. Last week, the Vols held Kentuck and Benny Snell to less than half their average.
On the other hand, Missouri generally gets more than their opponents are giving. Against Memphis (giving up an average of 169.1), they got 273. Against Purdue (giving up 144.8), they got 233. This will become a theme as we continue to look at the numbers: When the Missouri Tigers find something that works, they milk that sucker dry. But when they struggle and they have no other options, they’ll just get beat.
So, it seems to me that Missouri’s numbers seem to be a little inflated due simply getting beat some of the time but also putting success on repeat when they can. Is Tennessee a team that can disrupt their playlist? That’s the main question this weekend, I think.
My guess on that all-important question Saturday is that this Tennessee team at this point in the season can play with these guys, so I’m going with Missouri having to work and being limited to about 110 rushing yards against Tennessee’s defense.
Tennessee is averaging 204.5 passing yards per game, and Missouri is allowing 276.5, the worst pass defense the Vols have faced this year. The closest “better-than” comparison for a prior Tennessee opponent is West Virginia. They’re allowing 233.7 passing yards per game, and Tennessee got 172 against them. That almost seems like a different season at this point.
So, I think Tennessee may get well above its average in the passing game this week. Let’s call it 240 passing yards this weekend for the good guys.
The Tennessee pass defense is allowing 205.1 passing yards per game. Missouri is getting 277.5. The closest “not-as-good” comparison for a prior Tennessee opponent is South Carolina, which is getting 250.7 yards per game through the air, and they got 152 against Tennessee. The closest “better-than” comparison for a prior Tennessee opponent is Alabama, which is averaging 323.7 passing yards per game and got 327 against Tennessee.
The Gamecocks managed not far above their average against Tennessee, and even high-powered Alabama only got its average against Pruitt’s guys.
I’m going with Missouri getting somewhere around its average of 280 passing yards against Tennessee this weekend.
Tennessee is averaging 24.3 points per game, and Missouri is allowing 27.6. The closest “not-as-good” comparison for a prior Tennessee opponent is South Carolina, which is allowing 28.7 points per game, and Tennessee got 24 against them. The closest “better-than” comparison for a prior Tennessee opponent is Charlotte. They’re allowing 25.3 points per game, and Tennessee got 14 against them.
I’m thinking that Charlotte game was an outlier — a Tennessee team not yet good enough to sleepwalk through any game still falling prey to the temptation.
However, while the Vols offense has shown some flashes this season, they’re still really only good for a few touchdowns and a field goal or two per game, so my prediction is that Tennessee will get about what Missouri is giving, namely 24-27 points. Let’s call it 27 because I just drank my coffee.
Tennessee is allowing 24.7 points per game. Missouri is averaging 35.5. The closest “not-as-good” comparison for a prior Tennessee opponent is Florida, which is averaging 31.0 points, and they got 47 against Tennessee. The closest “better-than” comparison for a prior Tennessee opponent is Georgia, which is averaging 37.0 points and got 38 against Tennessee.
Does all of that mean that good teams put up more points than usual against Tennessee? The Florida game featured six turnovers. Georgia, well, Missouri’s not Georgia, right? Let’s hope. But against good defenses — Florida notwithstanding — they’re generally scoring between 28 and 35 points.
I’m going with Missouri putting up about 31 points in Neyland against Tennessee.
Comparison of predictions to other models and Vegas
The Vegas spread favors Missouri by 5.5-6, with an over/under of 55.5-56.5, which converts to somewhere around 31-25, Missouri.
Bill Connelly’s S&P+ says Tennessee has a 32.2% chance of winning and puts the score at Missouri 34.8, Tennessee 26.8, a spread of -8.
ESPN’s FPI gives the Vols a 31.7% chance of winning.
Left alone, the SPM says Missouri 39.5, Tennessee 16.8, a spread of -22.7.
After eye- and gut-adjustments, I’m going with Missouri 31, Tennessee 27, a spread of -4.