Until the last five minutes, this week was a lot like last week. For the second week in a row, the Vols defense was powerless to stop the opposing rushing attack, but for the second week in a row, the Vols offense did more than enough to keep pace. But last week against Kentucky, the Vols allowed two touchdowns in the last five minutes to turn a 26-point romp into a modest two-score victory. This week, it was the Vols who scored two touchdowns in the waning minutes of the game—the second on a 59-yard interception return by defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo—turning a modest two-score lead into a 26-point romp. When the dust settled, Tennessee had cleared the 60-point plateau for the first time this season, beating Missouri 63-37 in Neyland to record their eighth win of the season and second straight over the Tigers. So what got better, and what got worse? To the trends!
- Dobbs closing his career in style. Josh Dobbs has been up and down as a passer during his Tennessee career, but in the senior QB’s last game in Neyland, he was at his best. Not only did Dobbs throw for 223 yards and three touchdowns on just 22 passes, he was also his scrambly self, keeping a key first half touchdown drive alive with a near sack turned into a first down run and finishing with 190 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. All told, Dobbs was responsible for 413 yards and five touchdowns, putting an emphatic cap on an exciting career in front of the home fans.
- Turnover margin. The Vols have struggled to take care of the football all season. But this week, Dobbs threw no interceptions and Tennessee never put the ball on the ground. Missouri, on the other hand, threw two picks and lost two fumbles, the biggest reason that they could outgain the Vols by over 100 yards and still lose by four scores. Good things happen when you have a +4 turnover margin.
- Big guy touchdowns. At 6’6, 270, it’s hard to call Jonathan Kongbo fat, but whenever a defensive lineman takes a pass 59 yards to the checkerboards, it’s worthy of note.
- Championships. The Vols lost their opportunity to feel in control of their East destiny when they lost to South Carolina three weeks ago, but LSU’s lost to Florida this weekend put the final nail in the coffin. Second-year Gators coach Jim McElwain has two East titles in as many years to his credit. Butch Jones, on the other hand, has come up empty for a fourth straight season. In spite of all the good memories from this season, finishing second to Florida for a second consecutive year is going to sting.
- That defense. . . . And let’s be clear, this isn’t good. For the third time in the last four SEC games, the Vols have allowed 400 yards on the ground. This week, two different Missouri backs had career highs on the ground, and a hapless Tennessee defense allowed a school record 740 yards. Not even in 2012 did a UT opponent put up those kinds of numbers. It’s tough to play with so many injuries in the middle of the defense, but these last two weeks have been a special level of bad.