Tennessee never got anything going with any type of consistency on offense and Missouri was able to hit some big plays late to escape Knoxville with a 29-21 win on Saturday night. The Vols now have one game left to secure bowl eligibility and have a lot of things to tidy up before heading to Nashville next Saturday to face the Commodores.
It wasn’t what the Vols were hoping for on Senior Day, but a lot of that had to do with how well Missouri played in this game. Here are five observations from Saturday night.
Dobbs down to Earth: The high-flying Joshua Dobbs showed flashes of what we have seen him do over the last three games, but credit the Missouri defense for limiting his ability to escape the pocket and make big plays down the field. Missouri’s defensive line put on one of the better performances that I can remember an opposing team having in Neyland Stadium on Saturday night. Markus Golden and Shane Ray did a nice job of containing him in the pocket and collapsing on Dobbs quickly when Tennessee looked to pass. On the night, Missouri would sack Dobbs six times and limit him to only 13 rushing yards on 17 carries. Dobbs was intercepted once and also lost a fumble on a designed quarterback run. For all of his recent success, it just appeared that everything went against Dobbs on Saturday night; his receivers dropped passes that should have been completed, the offensive line suffered injuries that limited their effectiveness and the game plan never looked like it gave Missouri much trouble. It looked like the classic case of an experienced defense giving an inexperienced quarterback a lot of confusing looks for four quarters.
Offensive rhythm: Butch Jones said it after the game, but it was clear to anyone that watched the game that Tennessee never found any consistency or rhythm on offense. As mentioned above, Missouri deserves a lot of credit for that being the case, but self-inflicted wounds put Tennessee in an uphill battle all night long. “We didn’t get in a rhythm,” Butch Jones said after the game when speaking about his offense. “We got behind the sticks and made too many mistakes against a football team. We aren’t a team that can overcome third and long on a regular basis. We hurt ourselves tonight.” The stat that tells you all you need to know: Missouri would finish the game with 12 tackles for loss, while Tennessee would finish with only 53 rushing yards on 29 attempts.
Fake field goal: In a game that didn’t go Tennessee’s way, the fake field goal call in the second quarter that resulted in a Patrick Ashford-to-Alex Ellis touchdown will likely be quickly forgotten, and that’s a shame. On fourth and eight from the Missouri 31-yard line, Butch Jones dialed up his team’s first special teams fake of the year – and it was a beauty. Ashford received the snap, stood up, took a few steps to his right and fired a perfect pass down the seam to a wide-open Alex Ellis who walked in for a touchdown. The chaos that ensued after the score was also worth remembering, but the play itself was perfect execution of a perfect call at the perfect time.
Field Conditions: I know I have mentioned it a few times already this year, but Shields-Watkins Field has probably never looked worse than it did in 2014. A cold winter, heavy snow and heavy foot-traffic are all significant factors in the poor quality, but this was not a banner year for the field crew. In talking with some experts on the matter, there may have been a disease issue with the grass this year, but without knowing details of the seeding process it’s impossible to know for sure. Butch Jones likes to keep the grass green all year for recruiting purposes, but if the field conditions can’t improve over what we saw this year, then the option of artificial or ‘field’ turf may be the only viable option. That is certain to ruffle some feathers, but the field conditions have been poor all year and impacted the game on Saturday night. Multiple players slipped and fell when trying to make cuts due to the thin/dying grass and the appearance of the field is not pleasing, whether in person or on television. I’m not sure what the next step is, but something needs to be done.
Maty Mauk: Something about quarterbacks with this name just guarantees success when playing against Tennessee. It started in 2001 with Matt Mauck in the SEC Championship game and resurfaced last year in Columbia when Maty Mauk and the Tigers rolled over Tennessee by the final score of 31-3. So far in 2014, Maty Mauck had been one of the most inconsistent performers at the quarterback position in the conference, but he found his stride on Saturday against the Vols. Mauk completed 12-of-25 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday, while adding another 31 rushing yards to his total on nine carries. But it wasn’t just how Mauk beat the Vols in this game, it was when. Twice in the fourth quarter with the game still within reach for Tennessee, Mauk was able to find receivers in single coverage for touchdowns. The first was a 73-yarder to Jimmie Hunt against Justin Coleman, and the second was a perfect fade pass to Bud Sasser against Cam Sutton (the fact that Sutton got beat should tell you all you need to know about what kind of night it was for Tennessee). Credit Mauk, however, not only for the accuracy and timeliness of these passes, but also for the confidence to throw them given his struggles this season.
Some other news from last night’s game: