Most knew this would be a tough matchup for the Vols. The Missouri Tigers have a very potent offense led by Drew Lock, who will most likely be a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
What made them all the more troublesome was their balance and that was on full display Saturday night.
It’s time to dive into the penultimate edition of final grades.
It was a tough night for the offense. Jarrett Guarantano was knocked out of the game early due to some big hits. He finished the game with as many pass attempts as he was sacked.
Yes, you read that correctly. Missouri seemed to have a major read on what the Vols were trying to do and absolutely manhandled the offense early on.
Backup quarterback Keller Chryst came in to relieve Guarantano in the second quarter and was able to find quick success. He drove the Vols down the field for a big touchdown that put them up 7-6 on his first drive of the game.
Later on, he had them in good position to either get a field goal or touchdown to make it a one-score game, but a key interception at the Missouri goal line was returned 76 yards to the UT 11.
That play changed the entire game. Tennessee was only down 19-10 at that point and there is every reason to think they could’ve walked off the field with at least three points, making it at minimum, a 19-13 game. Instead, it was now 26-10.
The Vols did come out and score on the first drive of the second half to make it 26-17.
But a Carlin Fils-Aime fumble in the third quarter pretty much doomed the Vols. Missouri’s Nate Anderson was able force the ball out and Joshuah Bledsoe scooped it up and took it all the way to the house.
On a night when the Vols final got over their pre-snap penalties on offense, they couldn’t stay clean in the turnover column and the results were disastrous.
Three three-and-outs to start the game, three sacks, three turnovers, and 2/10 on third down conversions are going to get you stomped in this conference.
And that’s exactly what happened in Neyland Stadium against the Tigers.
Final Grade: 1.0 (D)
The defense was pretty sound to start the game, but couldn’t hold on as the offense continued to flounder and make mistakes as the game went on.
Tennessee was able to hold Missouri to two field goals and a three-and-out on their first three possessions. It was a major factor in helping the Vols take their first - and only - lead of the game.
It didn’t take long for Lock and the Tigers to begin to overwhelm the Vols’ defense. Two straight touchdown drives in the second quarter and the quick touchdown off of the interception at the end of the first half put the defense in a bad spot.
The Tigers’ offense racked up 266 total yards, 17 first downs, and 26 points in the first half.
Unfortunately, the Vols’ defense just couldn’t hold up in the second half. Missouri was just too balanced and too good with Lock playing well.
There was no presence up front and even though the secondary made some very good plays, they ultimately couldn’t get it done for a full quarters.
At the end of the day, the Vols allowed close to 500 yards, a 70% third-down conversion rate, and the Tigers were 7/7 in the red zone.
It had to be a “bend don’t break” approach going into the game, but the Tigers certainly broke the Vols.
Final Grade: 1.0 (D)
This unit had a pretty decent night. No big returns were allowed and the Vols made some good returns themselves. Brent Cimgalia nailed his only kick attempt on the night and hit all of his PAT attempts.
Joe Doyle had to punt the ball six times on the night and averaged over 43 yards per punt.
If only the special teams could pass protect or rush the passer.
Final Grade: 4.0 (A)
This is a tough grade to give out. I can’t get a good feel for Tyson Helton at this point. Something tells me Jeremy Pruitt hasn’t quite figured him out either.
I say this because of Helton’s inconsistency. He has come up with some pretty solid game plans over the course of the season, but his play calling has left many fans and pundits scratching their heads at times.
Pruitt on the other hand, is doing great things. This defense should be in the upper half of the nation next year and will only get better as he gets more recruits in.
But he just doesn’t have enough athletes right now to make the desired impact on defense. Regardless, he’s done a very impressive job this season.
Final Grade: 2.5 (C)
Overall Grade: 2.13 (C)
This was a very frustrating game to watch. So much promise and hope just to watch it diminish with a 76-yard interception return.
I didn’t expect them to win last night, but I definitely didn’t expect this team to lose by 33 points.
The Vols will now have to beat a tough matchup in the Vanderbilt Commodores to become bowl-eligible. That would be a very good ending for this season, let’s just hope they can get it done.