5 Observations: Tennessee 24, Missouri 20

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    (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

    It wasn’t always pretty, and Tennessee had multiple chances to put away the game earlier than they did. But in the end, the Vols found a way to win another road game in the SEC.

    Tennessee battled back-and-forth with Missouri all night on Saturday, and the Vols eventually emerged victorious thanks to some record-setting offense and timely defensive stops.

    The Vols beat Missouri 24-20 in Columbia to improve to 6-5 on the season. The victory gives Tennessee enough wins for bowl eligibility, a goal that seemed nearly impossible almost two months ago when UT fell to 1-4 to start the season.

    Jarrett Guarantano had a career night and etched his name into the UT record books, and the Vols’ trio of wide receivers did something no team in school history had ever done. But more on that in a moment.

    Here are our five biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s 24-20 victory over Missouri.

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    Record Night

    Tennessee’s offense looked like the 2012 offense under Jim Chaney on Saturday night. Whether it was because Chaney was calling the plays for the Vols again with Derek Dooley in the house or whatever it was, UT’s offense exploded.

    Jarrett Guarantano threw for a career-high 415 yards on 23-of-40 passing and tossed two touchdowns against a normally stout Missouri defense. Guarantano’s 415 yards through the air are the most since Tyler Bray totaled 530 yards against Troy back in 2012. His 415 yards are the fourth-most in a single game in school history, and it’s only the eighth game of 400-plus passing yards in UT history.

    That wasn’t the only history made on Saturday, however.

    Josh Palmer, Jauan Jennings, and Marquez Callaway all eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark against Missouri. That’s the first time in school history that Tennessee has had three receivers go over 100 yards in the same game.

    While Guarantano’s night was incredible, a huge chunk of the credit for Tennessee’s offensive numbers goes to UT’s wideouts. All three of the Vols’ main receivers on Saturday night made some breath-taking catches, and all three took some absolute shots by Missouri’s defenders.

    But all three kept coming back, and all three made huge plays.

    On the whole, the Vols totaled 526 yards of offense and averaged 7.2 yards a play. Tennessee’s 526 offensive yards are the most in a single game against a Power Five team since the Vols amassed 609 yards against Missouri in a 63-37 win in 2016.

    Defensive Stands

    A lot of the focus from Saturday’s win will be on the offense, but Tennessee’s defense stood strong multiple times against the Tigers.

    Tennessee held Missouri to a paltry 2.7 yards per rush, and the Tigers managed just 99 yards on 37 carries. Kelly Bryant was held to 166 passing yards on 16-of-28 passing, and the Tigers only gained 280 yards as a team.

    Granted, Missouri scored 20 points, which is more than their offense had totaled in their previous three games combined. But a lot of that had to do with special teams mistakes and turnovers by UT’s offense that did the defense no favors.

    Tennessee’s defense made their fair share of mistakes, such as a late hit penalty called on Shawn Shamburger, a poor defensive play by Bryce Thompson to allow a big gain, and an offsides call on Daniel Bituli. But the Vols held Missouri to just 4-of-15 on third downs, and the Tigers averaged just 4.2 yards a play.

    In the second half, Missouri was 0-of-6 on third down and averaged 3.9 yards a play. Tennessee got a clutch sack and forced four Tiger punts, including forcing a three-and-out on Missouri’s final offensive possession of the game.

    Shooting Themselves in the Foot

    Tennessee ended up winning on Saturday, so their mistakes won’t be as glaring to fans. But Jeremy Pruitt was quick to point out in this post-game interview on the SEC Network that UT made tons of mistakes against Missouri. And he’s right.

    The Vols had two field goals get blocked, a couple bad punts, Ty Chandler incorrectly calling for a fair catch on a kick-off that ended up giving the Vols the ball inside their own 10, several bad penalties, a fumble by Tim Jordan, and really poor clock management at times.

    Yet despite all those mistakes that looked extremely costly at the time, Tennessee still escaped with yet another road victory in the SEC.

    Dooley Effect

    Derek Dooley just can’t seem to win close games. That was an issue with his time at Tennessee, and it reared its head against the Vols on Saturday as he called plays for Missouri.

    The Tigers had multiple opportunities to grab the lead or make things even more interesting in the second half. While Missouri did take advantage of blocked field goal by scoring a touchdown and scoring a field goal off UT’s fumble, those were the only positive drives of the second half.

    When Missouri’s offense had to create their own luck and couldn’t depend on the defense or special teams, they floundered.

    Outside of those two scoring drives after turnovers, the Tigers punted on every other offensive possession. The drive that ended in a field goal in the fourth quarter could’ve been better, too. The Tigers were gifted more yards on that possession after Shawn Shamburger’s late hit penalty, and Kelly Bryant completed a 21-yard pass to Kam Scott then ran for 11 yards to get the Tigers into the red zone.

    From there, though, the Tigers’ offense stalled out, and they had to settle for a field goal rather than a game-tying touchdown.

    In the second half, Dooley’s offense managed just 116 yards and only 3.9 yards a play. The Tigers were 0-of-6 on third downs, and their final possession was a three-and-out.

    Let’s Go Bowling 

    Tennessee started the season 1-4 with disastrous losses to Georgia State, BYU, and Florida.

    Now, the Vols are bowl eligible for the first time since 2016.

    UT’s 24-20 victory over Missouri gives them six wins on the year, propelling them to postseason play for the first time in the Jeremy Pruitt era. The Vols have now won four-straight games and are winners of five of their last six games.

    Two months ago, none of this seemed possible. Now, Tennessee is not only going bowling, but they have a chance to go 7-5 to end the regular season next weekend when they host Vanderbilt.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.