Tennessee did just that. A dominant first half —as well as other key contributions— helped the Vols get to 2-0 on the season and helped them get their second straight win over the Tigers.
The Vols needed to come out of the gate strong, and boy, did they do just that on their first drive of the game. Jim Chaney used an up-tempo offense to help keep Missouri off balance and it worked, but the key to the drive was not one but TWO 4th and 1 conversions, one coming from UT’s own 35-yard line.
Jarrett Guarantano had two big throws, one being a nice 36-yard deep shot to freshman Jalin Hyatt down the right sideline and Ty Chandler punched it in from three yards out to cap off the 14-play 75-yard drive that gave the Vols an early 7-0 advantage.
Ty Chandler punches it in!!— Decade Of The Vols (@OSaile_) October 3, 2020
TOUCHDOWN TENNESSEE pic.twitter.com/BvN778d69C
Bryce Thompson ended Missouri’s first drive with a tackle for loss on 3rd and 9, giving the Vols a chance to extend their lead. Josh Palmer’s 33-yard reception moved Tennessee into scoring position, but Brent Cimaglia missed the 39-yard field goal attempt, leaving the Vols holding on to their 7-0 lead.
Another tackle for loss, this time from Henry To’o To’o ended Missouri’s drive. It was a three-and-out that left the Tigers punting from inside their own 10. Tennessee received the ball at their own 35, looking to score some points after missing out on the opportunity earlier.
The Vols faced yet another 4th and 1, but converted via a Guarantano sneak. It was the third fourth down converted in the first quarter and it was clear the Vols were trying to put Missouri away early.
Tennessee almost lost the chance to do that after a Gray fumble bounced into the hands of Missouri’s Martez Manuel. The sophomore corner returned the ball into UT territory, but the turnover was negated thanks to a hands-in-the-face penalty on Missouri. Gray made up for the mistake and punched it in from 20-yards out on the very next play and Cimaglia hit the PAT to put the Vols up 14-0 with 14:44 left in the first half.
Eric Gray’s easy 20-yard touchdown run pic.twitter.com/bE98kRNqGB— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) October 3, 2020
To make matters worse, Manuel was hurt on the Gray “fumble”. Missouri needed a big response on the next drive if it wanted to keep this game within reach. The Vols had 11 first downs to Missouri’s one and had 187 total yards to the Tigers’ 13.
Just like last week, Connor Bazelak started the first drive of the second quarter for the Tigers. He picked up right where he left off, as well, in terms of moving the ball and leading his team to points. Bazelak found Jalen Knox for a big 14-yard reception on 3rd and 10 and then Larry Rountree III broke off a 28-yard run on the subsequent play to immediately move the Tigers into scoring range. Another big pass —this time a 21-yard completion— from Bazelak to Damon Hazelton placed Missouri in the red zone, but Knox dropped a sure-fire completion on 3rd and 6 and the Tigers had to settle for the field goal. Harrison Mevis sunk the 27-yard attempt and the Vols now led, 14-3.
Missouri cornerback Ishmael Burdine made a really nice play to force a third down completion, as well as a three-and-out on the Vols’ next drive. Tennessee went 1 for 12 on third down last week and so far, the Vols were struggling again, due to the 2 for 7 mark so far in the game.
Dominic Gicinto dropped what would’ve been a huge gain for the Tigers on the first play of the next drive, but they were still able to move into UT territory when a bad snap somehow resulted in a 28-yard completion to KeKe Chism. Missouri was driving until Deandre Johnson came around the edge for his —and the Vols’— first sack of the game. Missouri was still able to put points on the board, however, after Mevis’ 50-yard field goal went right down the middle to cut Tennessee’s lead to 14-6 with 4:17 left in the second quarter.
Two big plays from Hyatt and Chandler took Tennessee into the end zone. The Vols —for at least one play— broke out of their third down-slump when Guarantano hit Gray on a perfectly-called 13-yard screen pass that resulted in six points and put the Vols up, 21-6, with :44 to go in the first half. The eight-play, 75-yard drive was the perfect response the Missouri’s six unanswered points.
A false start killed all hope for Missouri and the half ended with UT on top, 21-6. Tennessee’s first half ended with 149 yards on the ground and 134 yards through the air, as well as 17 points. The Tigers registered just 144 total yards of their own. It was clear that this game was only going to go one way if the Vols were able to play their game in the second half.
Missouri started at its own eight-yard line thanks to an illegal block on the kickoff return, but Tyler Badie was able to get his team out of the danger zone with a 35-yard reception. The Tigers went three-and-out after that play and had to punt the ball away. It wasn’t a complete loss, however, as Badie’s reception helped the Tigers pin the Vols inside their own 10, as well.
Two huge receptions (and especially one on 3rd and 10) from Palmer put Tennessee on the move. The Vols converted two more third downs on what eventually became a 16-play, 92 yard drive that was highlighted by Gray’s 22-yard run down to the Missouri two-yard line. Guarantano scored the Vols’ fourth touchdown off a quarterback sneak to put Tennessee up, 28-6 with 6:27 left in the third quarter.
Following a nice run by Eric Gray, JG punched it for 6.— Decade Of The Vols (@OSaile_) October 3, 2020
TOUCHDOWN TENNESSEE pic.twitter.com/TjrVvUKfUm
That’s how you make a statement coming out of halftime.
But the Tigers weren’t going to go away quietly. Tennessee was able to force them into two fourth down situations, but Missouri was able to convert both, the most important coming on a 4th and goal from the UT1. Rountree walked in untouched off the pitch from Bazelak to make it a 28-12 game with 2:06 left in the third quarter. The Vols didn’t completely lose out, however, as they stopped Missouri’s two point conversion to keep their lead at 16 points.
Tennessee couldn’t answer on its next drive. It looked Guarantano put the Vols in another fourth-and-short situation, but a holding call on Darnell Wright negated the run and turned the situation into a 3rd and 16. Guarantano was sacked on the next play and the Vols had to punt.
Missouri continued to fight. Bazelak found Hazelton for a 17-yard reception and Rountree converted a big third down a few plays later. The Tigers were in scoring position at the UT27 and were looking to make it a one-score game.
Theo Jackson had other plans, though. The senior defensive back stepped in front of a Bazelak pass for the interception and returned it 36 yards to the Mizzou 47-yard line. The Vols didn’t play around on the next play as Guarantano hit Velus Jones Jr. for a 22-yard gain. A few Gray runs put the Vols in a 4th and 1 inside the MU1 and a Guarantano sneak gave the Vols a 35-12 lead with 7:44 left in the game.
The Tigers tried to come back, but the deficit was too much. The Vols would go on to win, 35-12.
Tennessee is now 2-0 on the season and will travel to Athens, Georgia to take on the Bulldogs next week. Kickoff is currently listed as TBD, but be sure to check back in later this week for updates!