Missouri facing a tough test in Tennessee (VIDEO)

Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs is pursued by Alabama defensive back Landon Collins during last Saturday’s game in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs is pursued by Alabama defensive back Landon Collins during last Saturday’s game in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Photo by The Associated Press.

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COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Tennessee Volunteers boast an accomplishment the Missouri Tigers can’t match.

Tennessee took down the South Carolina Gamecocks on its home field two weeks ago, something Missouri failed to do last Saturday.

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Mizzou Network: Pinkel previews Tennessee

So now Missouri has some company in the Southeastern Conference’s East division race, sitting just a game ahead of South Carolina with four league contests remaining on the docket.

The first of those for No. 10 Missouri (7-1, 3-1 SEC) comes against Tennessee (4-4, 1-3 SEC) at 6 p.m. today (ESPN-TV) at Faurot Field.

“I see a good football team,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said of the Volunteers. “Beat South Carolina two weeks ago. ... In this league, the great thing about being in it, every week you play a great football team. We’re excited about doing that.”

Just like last Saturday’s game against the Gamecocks, Missouri’s opponent today features an injured starting quarterback. Only this time around, it appears to be a surefire thing the starter won’t enter the game in the second half and rally the team for a win, much like Connor Show did for South Carolina.

Tennessee starter Justin Worley will miss four weeks with torn ligaments in his right (throwing) thumb, meaning true freshman Joshua Dobbs will get the call today.

Worley completed 109-of-196 passes for 1,239 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions before injuring his thumb during Tennessee’s 45-10 loss to top-ranked Alabama last Saturday.

Dobbs’s redshirt was pulled at halftime of that game, and he led the Volunteers to 10 second-half points while completing 5-of-12 passes for 75 yards to go along with three carries for 19 yards.

“Whether there is a backup who can come in or a starter who’s hurt who could come back, or even if that doesn’t exist at all, we always check up the backup quarterback and try to find out anything,” Pinkel said before Worley’s status became clear. “Any time we can see him on film, whether it’s cleanup duty or anything, just to say, ‘Hey, what can this guy bring if by some chance the starter gets hurt?’ We do that every single week.

“Certainly if they’re rotating them or if it appears we’re going to see both, we’ll heighten a little bit in terms of the preparation.”

The inexperience at quarterback certainly won’t help Tennessee, but Pinkel believes the Volunteers’ other units will pose a multitude of problems.

“Their running backs are good; offensive line’s good; young receivers, but athletic,” he said. “Defense runs well, got a great linebacker in there, have an athletic secondary.”

One running back in particular stands out — senior Rajion Neal. His 763 rushing yards rank fourth in the SEC, and he boasts nine rushing touchdowns.

Neal’s presence provides another high-level back for Missouri to deal with. The Tigers didn’t have much trouble stopping one last Saturday. South Carolina’s Mike Davis entered that ball game with a league-leading 879 rushing yards. He exited with a season-low 51 yards on 19 carries, good for an average of 2.7 yards per rush.

Missouri defensive lineman Shane Ray has a theory for why the Tigers are so adept at stopping the run, sitting third in the SEC and 16th in the country by allowing 111.4 yards per game on the ground.

“Part of the battle in football of stopping anything is just running to the ball,” Ray said. “You get more than one guy on the ball — Mike Davis is a great running back — you get two, three or four guys on him, you can bring him down.

“The key essentially is hustling to make those plays. Instead of jogging when the play’s away from you, sprinting full speed and being the guy to make that play. Just being able to all get to the ball is what’s made us so successful against the run.”

As if Missouri’s not fired up enough following a heartbreaking loss, Tennessee provided Missouri with some extra fodder. Volunteer offensive lineman Antonio “Tiny” Richardson publicly guaranteed Tennessee would beat Missouri following its loss to Alabama.

“That adds some fuel to our fire,” Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk said. “No matter what he says, we’re going to play Missouri football.”

Adding even more incentive, Missouri can stay on track for the SEC East title with a win today.

“A lot of people predicted us to not be anything,” Ray said. “For us to be where we’re at, we’ll take it with a grain of salt. We have to keep moving. If you let things like that get to you, then you start to get complacent. We’re not about that. We’re trying to build our program here.”

A win today would move Missouri one step closer to a program-boosting SEC division championship.

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