Tennessee football suffered its worst loss of the Josh Heupel tenure on Saturday afternoon, falling at No. 14 Missouri 36-7 at Faurot Field. The Vols dropped to 1-3 in true road games this season as Missouri ended its four-game losing streak series.
Here’s five critical moments from the Vols’ loss at Missouri.
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The Opening Three-And-Out
Tennessee’s defense set the tone and stole points from Missouri when Jaylen McCollough intercepted a Brady Cook in the scoring zone and returned it out to midfield. It gave the Vols’ great field position on their first drive and an opportunity to take control of the game early.
Instead, Tennessee completed a six-yard screen passes and a pair of Jaylen Wright runs totaled zero yards. It was a missed opportunity for the Vols to take an early lead and it also set the tone for their worst rushing performance of the season.
It also led to Missouri possessing the ball for 13:15 of the game’s opening 15 minutes. The Tigers’ first drive was a long one and their ensuing drive was so methodical and long that you rarely see a non triple option team turn in drives like that.
Taking The Lead Over The Top
Missouri’s 20-play, 72-yard drive that took over 10 minutes off the clock led to the Tigers settling for three points on a short field goal.
Despite a very bad first quarter, Tennessee trailed just 3-0. Its offense put together its only complete drive of the game to take the lead after it.
A Jaylen Wright run and Ramel Keyton reception got Tennessee to midfield and that’s when Joe Milton III unleashed a 46-yard bomb to Dont’e Thornton. Thornton hauled in a contested catch despite suffering a game-ending injury on the play.
It gave Tennessee a 7-3 lead— its only one of the game. At that moment it looked like Tennessee might be in for another win like 2021 at Kentucky when they possessed the ball for only 15 minutes but still won.
Disastrous Close To The First Half
That thought was still in my head as Tennessee was driving deep in Missouri territory in the final minute of the first half. The Tigers largely outplayed the Vols in the second quarter too but there Tennessee was, knocking on the door while trailing 10-7.
Tennessee got the ball to open the second half and had a golden opportunity to take control of the game. Instead, Jaylen Wright fumbled inside the red zone and Missouri recovered with 20 seconds remaining in the half.
Missouri was content to run out the clock but Cody Schrader broke off a 35-yard run on the first play of the drive and the Tigers got aggressive. A quick pass and another Schrader run set up Harrison Mevis for a 46-yard field goal. He booted it through to give Missouri a 13-7 halftime lead.
Tennessee had a chance to tie the game but instead saw its deficit balloon in a terrible 30 second stretch to end the half.
Running Back The Opening Three-And-Out
But even down six point, Tennessee was still in the game at halftime. The Vols got the opening kick of the second half and had an opportunity to take the lead.
But on first down, Tennessee ran a speed option and Jaylen Wright fumbled the pitch. Cooper Mays jumped on the football to avert disaster but it was just about the last thing that went well for Tennessee all day.
The damage was already done on the drive, Tennessee couldn’t overcome second-and-16 and went three-and-out to open the second half just as they did in the first half.
Both drives were opportunities to take control and change the dynamic of the game. The Vols failed miserably both times.
A True Blowout
The game was long over with Missouri leading 29-7 midway through the final quarter. But when Daylan Carnell jumped in front of a Joe Milton III pass and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown— the route was on.
It punctuated Missouri’s dominant defensive performance after the Vols’ humiliated them the two previous years. The pick six made the game a clowning and was the final touch on the worst loss of the Josh Heupel era.