The Tennessee Volunteers entered their matchup with the Missouri Tigers and they knew what was on the line: a potential bowl bid and the first winning season since 2016.
But a couple of key turnovers proved to be the difference as the Vols fell to 2-5 against the Tigers in SEC play on Saturday night.
As expected, the Tigers’ offense got off to a quick start. They were able to keep their attacked balanced, throwing the ball four times to five times rushing the ball. The end result was a trip to the UT 12-yard line, but a false start pushed Missouri into a 3rd-and-10 from the UT 17.
Alontae Taylor was able to cover Emmanuel Hall on a vertical route into the end zone and Drew Lock overthrew his receiver. Tucker McCann nailed the ensuing 35-yard field goal attempt to make the score 3-0 in favor of Missouri.
The Vols came out on their first possession and ran the ball on first and second down. It left them with a 3rd-and-11 that ended with Jarrett Guarantano eating turf as Tyrie Gillespie took him down for the first sack of the game on a safety blitz.
Guarantano looked hurt and a bit woozy on the sideline after the hit. Would it affect him throughout the game?
It’d take another series to find out, but it didn’t take long. The Vols held the Tigers to a three-and-out after a beautiful play design on third down forced them to punt.
Tennessee took back over at their own 11 and Guarantano came trotting out on first down. It was to no avail, however, as he was sacked on the first play for a loss of ten. UT punted two plays later from their own 1-yard line.
A defensive pass interference call on Nigel Warrior and a great first-down run by Rountree quickly placed the Tigers in the Vols’ red zone. The defense held strong again, this time forcing a 23-yard field goal attempt. McCann hit his second attempt of the game and the Tigers led, 6-0.
The Tennessee offense took the field and at this point, Guarantano had been sacked more times than he had pass attempts. That had to change.
A questionable no-call on a third down pass left the Vols with another three-and-out. Without an offensive presence, it was just a matter of time before the defense faltered.
But that didn’t happen on the next drive. Good coverage combined with better pressure gave Tennessee a big sack on third down that led to another Missouri punt.
Unfortunately at the same time, everyone in the stadium watched Guarantano head into the locker room. Apparently he was still suffering from lingering effects of the first two sacks.
Some good news came in though after Tavon Ross was questionably ejected for targeting on the punt return.
Keller Chryst was set to take the reins. Could he get the offense on track?
It was looking pretty grim until Chryst connected with Jauan Jennings on a beautiful 41-yard catch and run that set the Vols up with their first first-down of the game. A quick slant to Josh Palmer for 13 yards set them up at the Missouri 6 yard-line.
The Vols were in business.
Ty Chandler faked out two Missouri defenders on a great cutback en route to the first touchdown of the game just one player later. The Vols now led, 7-6.
Cutback. Break some tackles. Touchdown Tennessee. pic.twitter.com/Ajqb6szsG7— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 17, 2018
Pruitt gambled again on the ensuing onside kick and Carlin Fils-Aime barely overran the ball. It was disappointing, but logical, evidenced by the fact that Missouri now started on their own 34-yard line with the football.
Tennessee was able to get Missouri into a 1st-and-15 early on the next drive, but a big 44-yard reception from Kam Scott and even bigger missed tackle by Micah Abernathy keyed the Tigers’ first seven-point drive of the game. Running back Tyler Badie punched it in from four yards out and Missouri regained the lead, 13-7.
Chryst immediatley found Callaway on the first play of the next drive for a 49-yard gain. It was an amazing effort on both players’ part - especially Callaway’s - and the Vols found themselves in Tiger territory.
A roughing the passer call on the next first down put the ball at the Missouri 8-yard line. The Tigers’ defense held strong and the Vols had to settle for a 21-yard attempt from Brent Cimaglia.
Cimaglia nailed the kick and the Tigers’ lead was cut to three, 13-10.
There’s a reason that Lock is expected to go in the first round of the NFL Draft next year and he showed why on the next drive. Outisde of a huge drop by Hall that would’ve been a touchdown, he went 4/4 for 49 yards and a touchdown, finding Dominic Gicinto for an 8-yard touchdown.
Tennessee’s special teams came through again though, blocking the extra point and holding Missouri to a 19-10 lead.
A 35-yard kick return by Bryce Thompson and a 33-yard run on first down by Chandler had the Vols in great field position right before the end of the first half.
Chryst made his first major mistake of the game soon after, throwing an interception on a pass intended for Callaway. It looked to be a miscommunication between the two and DeMarkus Acy took full advantage, picking off the pass while racing 76 yards down the sideline all the way to the UT 11.
The defense couldn’t bail the team out and Lock found Johnson a few plays later in the end zone. Missouri now led 26-10 with a few seconds to go in the first half.
Pruitt confirmed during his halftime interview that Guarantano would miss the remainder of the game. Despite the interception, Tennessee would receive the ball to begin the second half. Missouri also outgained them 266-138, but averaged just 5.91 yards per play to Tennessee’s 5.75.
HALF: Missouri scores a touchdown on its last three possessions, leads by 16 at the break.— KOMU 8 Sports (@KOMUsports) November 17, 2018
Lock: 14-20, 183 yards, 2 TD pic.twitter.com/nOy6fMzZ7z
The Vols were just 1/6 on third down and averaged two yards per carry. If they could improve in either (especially both) area(s), then it wouldn’t be an unrealistic expectation for a comeback.
The comeback got off to a quick start, but not because of the running game or third down conversions. Chryst found Callaway again for another 49-yard gain on first down. The play put them at Missouri’s 9-yard line and three plays later, Chandler ran it in for his second touchdown of the game and cut Missouri’s lead to 26-16.
Tennessee came out in formation to go for the two-point conversion but a delay of game penalty reduced them to an extra point attempt. Cimaglia hit the PAT and Missouri now led 26-17 early in the third quarter.
Missouri’s first drive of the second half started off with a big run by Lock on a zone read for a 16-yard gain. The Vols were able to recover and put the Tigers in a 3rd-and-6, but Bryce Thompson missed a key tackle on Badie that gave Missouri the conversion. A great throw from Lock to Hall put the ball at the UT 2-yard line and Rountree punched it on the next play.
Missouri now led 33-17. Tennessee’s offense is not built to play from behind. How would they respond?
“Not good” would be the answer. The only positive of Tennessee’s next drive would be a DPI on Ware that gave them their fourth first down due to penalty. Missouri’s Nate Anderson forced a Fils-Aime fumble on the next play and Joshuah Bledsoe took all the way to the house to increase the lead, 40-17.
That would pretty much do it for the night. A Missouri field goal, a late touchdown, and more Tennessee turnovers put the game on ice and the Tigers walked out of Neyland Stadium with their seventh victory of the season by a score of 50-17.
The Vols are now 5-6 (2-5) on the season and will look to become bowl-eligible with a win against the Vanderbilt Commodores (4-6, 1-5) next Saturday. Kickoff is set for 4PM EST.