Aside from John Kelly and the ground game in general, the most positive aspect of the Tennessee Volunteers this season has been the secondary.
Tennessee ranks fourth in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (150) and have only allowed seven touchdown passes through nine games.
However, those numbers are slightly skewed due to the quality of competition. Tennessee has faced a pair of triple-option based offenses to start the season (Georgia Tech and Indiana State), a backup quarterback for a winless team (UMass), a freshman making his road debut in the SEC (Georgia), a pair of running backs disguised as quarterbacks (Alabama and Kentucky) and a Florida quarterback (those aren’t good).
The best quarterback Tennessee has faced all season is South Carolina’s Jake Bentley, who ranks 48th in the country in passing yards.
On Saturday, the Vols will travel to Columbia to take on the Missouri Tigers, who are arguably the worst program in the SEC. However, Mizzou does have one thing going for them — quarterback Drew Lock.
Lock leads the SEC in passing yards (2,795) and the nation in touchdown passes (31). He has more passing yards than Tennessee has total offense.
Part of that is due to Lock’s tendency to shred FCS opponents such as Missouri State, but his performance against the Gators last week — in which he completed 75 percent of his passes and tossed three touchdowns — undoubtedly makes him the best quarterback the Volunteer secondary has faced all season.
Lock has played so well, that Tennessee head coach Butch Jones declared on Monday that the junior quarterback would “play on Sundays for a very, very long time.”
While that is certainly a debatable topic, it goes without saying that nine games into the 2017 season, we’re still generally unaware of just good Tennessee’s secondary actually is. Saturday’s matchup against the SEC’s most prolific quarterback should provide clarity.