Credit Missouri, who played exactly the kind of game it wanted to play with Maty Mauk leading the offense for the injured James Franklin. The Tigers went for 502 yards of offense, the third time they've cracked that mark in these last five games against the non-Kentucky portion of the SEC East. They got 339 of those yards on the ground at 6.3 per carry, using a dominant ground game with fresh legs everywhere and a bend but absolutely don't break ever defense to make sure any lead would be safe. As a result Mauk did more damage with his legs than his arms, running for 114 yards on 13 carries.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but carrying forward a "Mizzou ain't no good!" conversation is a bad idea, both because it makes us look worse and because at this point it's devoid of fact. The Tigers go to 8-1, and while remaining games at Ole Miss and the home finale against Texas A&M will test them for sure, right now Missouri looks every bit the real deal and deserves the accompanying credit.
Missouri did the things it needed to do to win. Tennessee also did the things it absolutely cannot do if it hopes to win another one of these big games. And if it does as many bad things as we saw tonight the rest of the season, bowl eligibility will be in serious jeopardy.
I thought Josh Dobbs performed about as well as could be reasonably expected. His numbers were about the same as what we've seen from Justin Worley all year, only Dobbs had more attempts tonight than Worley in any single game (Dobbs averaged 5.7 yards per attempt; Worley's season average is 6.3). 26 of 42 for 240 yards in your first start on the road against a top ten team? I would've taken that coming in.
I expected turnovers, and we got them. His fumble came on an extra-effort play, and what he certainly does better than Justin Worley is run with the football (7 carries, 45 yards). His interceptions were, I thought, over-confidence throws. He is, as you know, a smart kid. He'll learn.
Missouri's defense is exceptional at creating turnovers and got their three tonight. Tennessee's defense had been pretty good at it too, but we got zero tonight. And when you combine a -3 turnover margin with 9 penalties for 64 yards, you get a recipe for disaster for any team. And this Tennessee team is plain and simple not good enough to overcome those two statistics no matter who's playing quarterback.
The offensive line is getting a lot of blame tonight, and with six false starts (I believe one was on the tight end) and a holding call that'll happen. The Vols also ran for less than four yards per carry (3.9) for only the third time this year, the others being at Florida and vs South Carolina. Rajion Neal in particular was very out of character, finishing with eight carries for eight yards. None of that will help a brand new quarterback.
And third downs were especially maddening. Missouri went 8 of 18 and got many of them on the ground. Tennessee went 2 of 13. The last two weeks we're 5 of 25.
Behind those third down numbers are inefficient play on first and second down. The Vols had only one third down attempt of less than five yards before Missouri scored its 31st point and only two for the entire game. Simply put, the Vols were often terrible on first and second down via penalty or unproductive run play.
So Missouri did all the big things right, and Tennessee did all the small things wrong. That translates into a beatdown. But everything that matters for Team 117 is still on the table, and that's important to remember. The SEC's best rushing offense will come to Knoxville next Saturday - Auburn threw eight passes in a win at Arkansas today - and after tonight that's certainly cause for concern. But Auburn also has a defense that should make the Vol offense give thanks after the gauntlet we've faced. Next week's Tigers will be the fifth straight Top 11 team we've faced and seventh ranked opponent of the season. Given that particular load, the fact that this Tennessee team still has a chance at bowl eligibility is something to be thankful for. Vanderbilt and Kentucky are waiting behind an off week.
The Vols have to get better at the big things and are not good enough right now to mess up the small things. But there's still a lot of football left for this team and for Josh Dobbs. Whether we look back at this game later and see an eventual SEC East Champion on the other side of this loss or Missouri falls down the stretch, we have to keep getting better. I'll be interested to see how Butch Jones handles this team going forward after another big loss. We believed the culture changed after the Georgia and South Carolina games. For that to be true going forward, the Vols need two more wins, and they need to come to fight against Auburn on Saturday. Let's see if this team can keep building.