No. 21 Tennessee defeated Missouri 35-12 in its home opener on Saturday afternoon inside of Neyland Stadium.
The Vols led from start to finish and were able to avoid a Missouri comeback in the third quarter when senior safety Theo Jackson picked off a pass while the Tigers were driving deep into Tennessee territory. Offensively, Tennessee dominated on the ground to lead the Vols to a win.
Here are the winners and losers from Tennessee’s win over Missouri in its home-opener.
Winners: Ty Chandler and Eric Gray
Ty Chandler and Eric Gray followed up an impressive performance against South Carolina in the season opener with an impressive performance against Missouri in the home opener. With help from the Tennessee offensive line, Chandler and Gray combined to rush for 195 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries. The duo averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
Gray was Tennessee’s leading rusher. The sophomore ran for 105 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. He averaged 6.6 yards per carry in his second career 100-yard rushing game. Gray added a 13-yard touchdown catch through the air. Chandler almost reached the century mark as well. The senior rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
Loser: Tennessee’s special teams
The special teams unit did not have a great day. Brent Cimaglia missed another field goal, the second in as many games. And Pruitt was not pleased with Brooks’ kickoffs. Brooks did have a good day punting the ball, however, averaging 45.0 yards per punt.
Tennessee didn’t get an opportunity to return any punts or kickoffs. On the flip side, Tennessee’s coverage teams were good, not allowing Missouri to have any big returns.
Winners: Situational football
The Vols were awful on third down against South Carolina, going 1-for-11. Tennessee was much better on the money down against Missouri as it went 6-for-13. Jarrett Guarantano was near perfect throwing the football on third down. Guarantano was 7-of-8 for 86 yards and a touchdown.
Tennessee was even better on fourth down going 4-for-4. Three of those first downs on fourth down came in the first quarter. The Vols only picked up two first downs on fourth down all of last season.
Most importantly, Tennessee was 5-for-5 in the red zone with five touchdowns.
Loser: Tennessee’s defense
The defense was shaky at times against Missouri. They were strong in the opening quarter and the fourth quarter, but were not good in the middle quarters. The secondary dealt with miscommunication errors that led to multiple coverage busts and allowed Mizzou’s backup quarterback to throw for over 200 yards. On the ground, Missouri running back Larry Rountree averaged 4.7 yards per carry as the front seven struggled against the run for a second consecutive week.
Winner: Tennessee’s offensive line
Tennessee rushed for 232 yards and four touchdowns as a team, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. The four touchdowns were the most in a game for the Vols since they rushed for four touchdowns against East Tennessee State in 2018. Gray and Chandler were awesome, but they’ve couldn’t have had the day they had without the help of the offensive line.
Loser: Gameday experience
It felt like a glorified spring game because of all of the COVID-19 restrictions. There wasn’t a true Vol Walk experience, there wasn’t the band performing on the field and there was no running through the T for the Vols. We’re thankful to simply have college football, but it just wasn’t the same without 102,455 Vol fans crammed inside of Neyland Stadium.
Winner: The Vols
Tennessee is 2-0 to begin conference play for the first time since 2016. The Vols have also now won eight straight, tied with Notre Dame and Air Force for the longest active winning streak in college football. It’s the program’s longest win streak since an 11-game win streak spanning between the 2015 and 2016 seasons and is the second-longest win streak since the 1998 national championship season.
Loser: Eli Drinkwitz
Safe to say Missouri’s first-year head coach has now experienced Knoxville.