KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Bob Shoop knows all about the challenge ahead at Missouri, but the Vols’ second-year defensive coordinator is looking forward to it.
“I do think we have a pretty good secondary and our guys are playing with confidence,” Shoop said Monday night after Tennessee’s opening practice of the week. “I think we’ll really be tested this week and know more about ourselves after this game.”
The Vols (4-5, 0-4 SEC) are 10-point underdogs to the Tigers (4-5, 1-4) and their high-powered offense in the game Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Faurot Field in Columbia.
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock leads the nation with 31 touchdown passes and has thrown at least 3 TD passes in each of his last five games, including a 45-16 victory over Florida last Saturday.
“It almost looks like a different team than what was playing at the beginning of the year,” Shoop said, referring to the 1-5 start the Tigers got off to before winning their last three. “They are all in sync, they play fast — we learned that last year. We gave up a ton of yards and they ran 120 plays on us.”
Tennessee beat Missouri 63-37 last season, but the Vols surrendered a school-record 740 yards.
Shoop explained the impact of the Tigers’ tempo and said the Vols need key players such as sophomore safety Nigel Warrior to step up.
“He’s explosive, he’s athletic, he’s upper-SEC level talent-wise and he’s just gonna get better, [and] he’s gonna need to play well for us to win the game,” Shoop said, pointing out that Warrior made his first career start last season game against Missouri.
“I feel like he and Micah Abernathy are really going to have to be on point because the tempo is so fast, so those two and [Colton] Jumper are really going to have to take charge, communicate well and give us post-snap effort and get us lined up.”
Warrior leads the Vols with 64 tackles this season. The son of Tennessee legend Dale Carter, Warrior has proven capable of putting big hits on opponents while still being a sound tackler.
The Tigers’ scheme will force Warrior and his teammates to play well in space.
Shoop said Missouri’s wide line splits and multi-receiver sets make blitzing more difficult, as does Lock’s ability to read defenses and get into the right RPO (run-pass option) read.
“We’ve got to get up, get our eyes to the sideline, get the signal and get lined up correctly,” Shoop said. “The analogy I used today is that the plays themselves are really simple, but the tempo they go is warp speed.”
Tennessee’s defense hopes to continue its trend of forcing turnovers, having forced eight over the past three games.
“We do a period every week called maxim period, where it’s tackling or hunt the ball, or we call it HTB,” Shoop said. “We do various stripping drills, [called] hammer and rake, pin and punch, strip sack, pin and pry, and we emphasize proper recovery techniques.
“Those plays are the difference between being 4-5 and 7-2, that one play here, that one play there. If we can continue to do that the next few weeks that will be positive.”
Shoop said he’s talked to the defense about what a strong finish will mean to the program’s legacy moving forward.
“The challenge was to play with juice last week and they did,” Shoop said of the defense’s effort against Southern Miss. “And we talked about changing the narrative, changing the last chapters of Team 121, and that was a good start.”