Tennessee football fell flat and played one of its worst games of the season as the Vols fell at Missouri 36-7 on Saturday afternoon.
Here’s four quick takeaways on the loss.
Missouri Wins The Running Battle
Tennessee and Missouri both entered games with good run offenses. But the Vols’ rushing offense is elite and Missouri’s is just good. And the Tigers’ run defense is just solid while the Vols’ is truly good.
But it was Missouri that dominated the game on the ground while Tennessee couldn’t create anything on the ground all game.
Missouri running back Cody Schrader didn’t break off a ton of long runs. But he leaned on Tennessee all game and just constantly picked up yards on the ground. Schrader totaled 205 yards on the ground on 35 carries and set the tone for the Tigers’ offense.
Tigers’ quarterback Brady Cook was also extremely effective on the ground. Josh Heupel emphasized the importance of containing him in the pocket this week but the Vols couldn’t do it. Cook totaled 55 rushing yards which included three sacks. Most of the damage was done on scrambles.
On the other end, Tennessee could never get anything going on the ground. The Vols were forced to throw the ball a lot in the second half because of the deficit but Tennessee just couldn’t get anything going on the ground.
Tennessee totaled only 83 rushing yards on 23 carries. It was the Vols’ worst rushing performance of the season.
Tennessee Can’t Get Off The Field On Third Downs
The Vols’ defense got Missouri into a lot of third down situations but very few were third-and-longs. Missouri stayed in manageable third down situations all game and continually converted them.
The Tigers went 11-of-17 on third downs and sustained long drives because of it. Missouri did its best Army impression in the first half going on a 20-play, 72 yard drive that ran 10:55 off the clock.
On third down and intermediate and long, Cook extended plays and converted on the previously mentioned scrambles but also by making throws on the run. On third and short, Missouri lined up and ran it right at Tennessee.
The Vols had answers for neither.
Tennessee’s inability to get off the field led to Missouri dominating time of possession. The Tigers held the ball for 39:56 while Tennessee possessed it for 20:04.
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A Game Changing Sequence To End The Half
Despite playing poorly for most of the first half, Tennessee was trailing by three and driving deep in Missouri territory in the final minute of the first half. The Vols trailed by three points but looked poise to at least tie the game before getting the ball to open the second half. It was a fantastic opportunity to double-dip the Tigers and take control of the game.
Instead, Jaylen Wright caught a pass for a first down and ran into the red zone before fumbling. Blowing the scoring opportunity was bad but only the start of a horrible final 30 seconds of the second half.
Missouri was content to run the clock out. Taking over at their own 18-yard line with 20 seconds left in the half, Missouri ran a simple run to Cody Schrader.
Schrader ripped off a 35-yard run that completely changed the dynamic of the drive. Missouri then decided to be aggressive.
A four-play drive set up Harrison Mevis for a 46-yard field goal. He booted it in to give Missouri a 13-7 halftime lead.
In a game that had nine total first half possessions, the six-point swing completely flipped the dynamics of the game and was a massive blow.
Tennessee Can’t Finish Drives
Despite having little to no run game, Tennessee was able to move the ball pretty well against Missouri. But in what’s been a common theme this season, the Vols struggled to convert those opportunities into points.
Tennessee’s 350 total yards was not good but wasn’t despicable given they only ran 57 plays.
But in 11 total drives, Tennessee punted from Missouri’s 48 and 38 yard lines and fumbled from Missouri’s 18 and 34 yard line. The Vols got thoroughly outplayed but if they could have finished more drives on Missouri’s side of the field with points, particularly touchdowns, than the game could have been more competitive.
It’s a reoccurring theme and issue for the Vols’ offense this season.