When Tennessee’s signing class of 32 players entered the 2014 season there was no doubt that most of them would be thrown into the mix early. No one ever imagined that two freshmen will start at middle linebacker and free safety in what has become the Vols’ biggest game of the year against Missouri Saturday night under the lights at Neyland.
Todd Kelly Jr. will start at safety Saturday night as Brian Randolph is suspended for the first half due to a targeting penalty against Kentucky. Jakob Johnson will make his first start at middle linebacker in place of AJ Johnson, who is currently being investigated in a sexual assault case that has led to his suspension.
Missouri comes in as a slight underdog against the Vols but the point spread indicates that the game is a toss-up. There are a few key matchups in the game but none more important than the defensive line for the Vols, led by freshman defensive end Derek Barnett, going against the offensive line of Missouri and their turnover-prone quarterback. Barnett leads the defense with nine sacks against opponents and here of late has been playing like an All-American defensive end.
Butch Jones’ tough defense is 37th overall and 30th against the pass this year. If the Vols can pressure Mauk and contain the average Missouri rush then they have a really good shot at haulting an SEC championship for the Tigers and becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.
Edited by Will Lomas