It wasn’t just one thing that went wrong for the Vols against Missouri; several things didn’t go Tennessee’s way.
The Vols lost the turnover battle, didn’t control the time of possession, gave up nearly 500 yards of offense, missed tackles, and couldn’t get a rhythm on offense.
In short, Missouri dominated Tennessee. And head coach Jeremy Pruitt said as much after the game on Saturday.
“You know, you have to give Missouri credit. They pretty well beat us in all three phases of the game,” Pruitt stated in his post-game press conference. “They out-coached us, out-played us, out-hit us, out-toughed us. They executed better than we did, had less turnovers, scored touchdowns in the red area, took advantage of the mistakes we made, created negative plays for us on offense, made explosive plays when they had the ball.
“We’ll have to go back and regroup. We have one game to play, and it’s a game that means a lot to the people around here. Only thing I can say is Missouri out-coached us, out-played us today.”
It was a complete team effort from Missouri on Saturday. The Tigers averaged 6.1 yards a play and put up 43 points on offense. Their defense intercepted two passes and forced a fumble, and that fumble was returned for a touchdown. Missouri held Tennessee to converting just two of their 10 third down attempts, and they totaled three sacks and seven tackles for loss on the afternoon.
On offense, Missouri gained big chunks on a number of plays. The Tigers had six plays go for 20 or more yards against Tennessee’s defense, and several times shorter gains were made longer by the Vols’ inability to tackle.
Pruitt wasn’t in the business of cutting his team any slack after the game, pointing out that poor tackling as one of the big reasons the Vols lost the game. But he also credited Missouri and said they were better than their record indicated, and they were faster than the teams they’d been playing lately.
“I think if you go back and probably look at it, the games we didn’t tackle well, it’s maybe who we played against,” Pruitt explained. “I’ve said all along, Missouri was 6-4. They had two games that they probably would like to have back, and they played Alabama and Georgia as close as anybody in our league. They have a good quarterback, they can run, they have good tight ends, good runner, good defense. They do a good job. We didn’t execute well enough today to give ourselves a chance to win. We needed to execute at a high level. We didn’t. Couldn’t turn the ball over, we did. Didn’t get but one turnover. Just left some plays out there, probably on both sides of the ball.
“I think maybe the speed they played with offensively probably affected our guys defensively a little bit. Whether it was fatigue, whether it was poise and adjustments, making calls. We really hadn’t played against anybody fast in a while.”
Missouri ran 79 offensive plays, and 29 of them picked up first downs. After punting on two of their first four possessions, the Tigers would score touchdowns on five straight possessions and scored on nine of their 13 total possessions in the game.
The Tigers held the ball for 37 minutes and 22 seconds on Saturday. The Vols had it for just 22 minutes and 38 seconds, and they didn’t have a drive on offense that lasted three minutes the entire game. In fact, only six of Tennessee’s 14 possessions lasted longer than two minutes.
Tennessee came into Saturday’s game having turned the ball over only 12 times in 10 games this season, and half of those came in one game against Florida earlier this season. But Missouri forced three UT turnovers and capitalized on all three of them. One was a scoop and score fumble recovery, and the other two set the Tigers’ offense up with a short field that they took advantage of and scored touchdowns.
The Vols forced one Missouri turnover, and the offense went three-and-out on the ensuing possession.
Pruitt said after the game that the Vols made plenty of errors last week against Kentucky, but the Wildcats didn’t make them pay for it. This week, Missouri did, and that was the ultimate difference in this week’s outcome.
“Sometimes the score don’t actually dictate how you play,” Pruitt said. “You go back and look at the game last week (vs. Kentucky), we had 50 mental errors on defense. It just didn’t get exposed. I don’t know if we made 50 mental errors today, but I do know we had some that were critical. You can’t do that. We had chances to get off the field, and we didn’t do it defensively, which I felt like we should have based off what we had called and the play they ran.
“And again, our margin of error is not large enough. Our offense, after the first quarter, moved the ball some, put some points on the board. But it’s just the turnovers giving them short field, you know. We have to be a little more consistent on both sides of the ball.”