Every once in a while, you play a game where you just can't do anything right. For Tennessee, that game was Saturday against Missouri. It's one where it's difficult to take any positive lessons, so it's probably best just to move on as quickly as possible. But we'll take a last look back at last week before we start focusing on where Tennessee stands now and moving forward.
- Avoiding three-and-outs. Three-and-outs, as you well know, are bad. They don't allow the defense any time to rest, and they don't improve field position. Even if a team isn't scoring, if they can at least move the chains a couple times a series, they have an opportunity to play and possibly win a field position battle. Against South Carolina, Tennessee went three-and-out seven times. Against Alabama, the Vols went three-and-out on the first two possessions and had five drives of ten or fewer yards. Against Missouri, the Vols went three-and-out just once. Of course, the defense didn't do their part to turn it into a field position battle, but the offense just getting yards every possession is a small step in the right direction.
- Sustaining drives. While avoiding three-and-outs is a small positive, it's hard to score without sustaining drives. Tennessee got into Mizzou territory nine times and came out with three points. Three of those drives were ended by turnovers, one by a dropped touchdown pass, two by penalties. . . it was something different every time, but every drive, the Vols did something to kill their possession. Tennessee had a number of good offensive plays, but their inability to string good plays together led to the worst point total of the season.
- The offensive line. Six false starts. Six. And while Rajion Neal could have his own trending down bullet for netting just eight yards on eight carries, the offensive line was terrible at opening up running lanes, leading to Vols running backs totaling less than 50 yards on the day. The offensive line was supposed to be elite this year, and while they have played well at times, they have struggled to live up to the billing, and Saturday night was a new low, as the Tennessee front played their worst game since probably 2011.
- Defending the interior run game. The book on Tennessee's defense this year has been "get to the edge." Missouri didn't need to. They gashed Tennessee right up the middle, and the Vols' defense was powerless to stop it. Even if you take out Maty Mauk's 100-yard game, the Tigers ran for more yards total and more yards for carry than Alabama. Like the offensive line, the interior run defense hit a low point on Saturday.
- Containing a running quarterback. This has never been a strength, and even when Tennessee did it poorly, it has been included in the "holding steady" section, rather than trending down. But this wasn't 80 yards from Tyler Murphy or Connor Shaw. Maty Mauk ran for 114 on just 13 carries, and he made it look easy. Tennessee has always struggled with running quarterbacks, but this was the biggest struggle this season.
- Discipline in the secondary. Discipline was an issue in more than one place, but we've already covered the offensive line and the front seven. Tennessee had perhaps their biggest blown coverage of the season in the second quarter, when L'Damian Washington got literally 15 yards past the nearest defender for the easiest touchdown he's scored all season. And then later in the quarter, Marcus Lucas just ran past the Vols defenders for a 40-yard touchdown strike. The Vols secondary has talent issues, but for much of October, they've been making other teams sustain drives. Saturday, they made it easy.
- Michael Palardy. The one constant. And that's a good thing. Hit a 51-yard field goal, dropped four punts inside the 20, and even put one inside the one. It's been a long time in coming, but Palardy has been a weapon this season, and he'll be missed when he graduates.