COLUMBIA — Maybe Tennessee coach Butch Jones was atoning for offensive lineman Antonio "Tiny" Richardson’s guaranteed victory in this weekend’s game against Missouri, or maybe he was simply trying to over-hype a highly ranked Tigers team.
Whatever the reason, Jones couldn’t stop gushing about the Missouri Tigers during his SEC conference call Wednesday morning.
No. 9 (BCS) Missouri Tigers vs. Tennessee Volunteers
Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium, 6 p.m.
"When you think of Missouri, you think of the defensive front," Jones said. "Very, very explosive. Michael Sam is as good of a player as we’ve faced. Great team speed on offense and really on all three phases."
That’s high praise from a man whose team has already been defeated by national heavyweights Oregon and Alabama this season.
"Obviously, Alabama has great team speed, and so does Oregon," Jones said. "I think Missouri has great speed as well. I’ve been very, very impressed with them in terms of understanding angles, rush angles, the way they use their hands and explode out of their stances.
"When I talk about team speed, it’s not just one position. They can run across the board. The quarterbacks add another dimension of being able to make plays with their legs, and then their tailbacks and wideouts not only possess very good speed but obviously the height is going to be a huge disadvantage for us."
The Volunteers are coming off of a 35-10 blowout loss against the Crimson Tide. But afterwards, Richardson — a team captain — was already looking ahead to Saturday's contest.
"Like I said, snap and clear (a favorite phrase of Jones')," Richardson said. "That’s all we’ve got to do, and we’ll beat Missouri. I promise you that."
The win would be huge for a languishing Tennessee program that hasn’t beaten a ranked team on the road since Oct. 7, 2006, at No. 10 Georgia.
"We have to learn what it takes to play on the road going into hostile environments," Jones said. "When you go on the road, you’re responsible for creating your own momentum."
The degree of difficulty will also be heightened considering starting quarterback Justin Worley is out for at least three weeks with a thumb injury.
Jones said there is a "possibility" Worley could be inactive for the rest of the year, which leaves true freshman Josh Dobbs as the man under center this weekend against Missouri.
"I think (Dobbs) is really good," Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said in a conference call Wednesday. "The thing I was really impressed with was his poise. You’re playing on a big stage there (against Alabama)."
Pinkel added that the Volunteers are "kind of in our boat, too."
That "boat" would be the injured quarterback schooner.
Missouri senior James Franklin has been sidelined with a sprained right shoulder for the past two games, and redshirt freshman Maty Mauk has stepped into fill the starting spot.
Jones actually recruited Mauk in 2011, while Jones was head coach at the University of Cincinnati. Mauk’s older brother, Ben, was a quarterback for the Bearcats, but that wasn’t enough to sway the prospect.
Though the new Tennessee coach was unsuccessful in his overtures, he remembers why he wanted the younger Mauk so badly two years ago.
"The best thing about him is he’s a coach’s son," Jones said. "He grew up with a football. He’s extremely, extremely competitive. I think he has great instincts and he possesses great confidence. He can make all the throws, so I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and his family."
Compliments came in droves from Jones on Wednesday, but when it came time to dissect his own Volunteers before their road game against the No. 9-ranked Missouri Tigers, he changed his tune.
"We have to continue to progress," he said, "And get much, much better."
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.