If I had to describe Tennessee’s loss to Missouri in one word, I would choose “humbling.”
The Vols were riding high coming off a 24-7 win against rival Kentucky. Many fans and pundits finally thought that all the hard work and practice this team has put in over the offseason was finally going to pay off. Tennessee was finally going to turn the corner. . .and then Missouri came in about beat them 50-17. What makes this loss even worse was that score was the exact same score as last year, when Tennessee had its worst team in the history of the program.
The Vols got off to a very rough start in this game. Quarterback Keller Chryst was forced into action early in the game after Jarrett Guarantano was injured after a nasty-looking blindside hit. Chryst looked great during the first few minutes after he threw a beautiful pass to Jauan Jennings that later resulted in a drive-capping touchdown. But after that pass, we got to see why Chryst was the backup behind Guarantano. Throughout the game, Chryst routinely overthrew his receivers and ended up throwing two interceptions, one that was returned for 76 yards and eventually resulted in a Mizzou touchdown.
Overall, the offense was atrocious on Saturday night. Tennessee only amassed 255 yards and 11 first downs. The run game was virtually non-existent besides a few nice runs from Ty Chandler and the passing game relied on Marquez Callaway making amazing, acrobatic catches on 50/50 balls. What makes this offensive performance even worse is that Missouri’s defense has been suspect at best this entire season. They currently rank 65th in the nation in total defense giving up an average of 397 yards a game. This sort of offensive inconsistency is very concerning going forward. How the Vols can easily score on top ranked defenses such as Auburn and Kentucky, but fail to do anything against defenses like Missouri and Charlotte is beyond me.
Defensively, this game gave me flashbacks to the West Virginia game at the beginning of the season. Plenty of missed tackles, plenty of blown assignments, and plenty of corners getting beat by their man. The No. 1 goal for Tennessee to win this game was to get to Drew Lock and the defense failed to do that. The defense finished the game with one sack and zero QB hurries. Lock had all the time in the world to complete passes and he did just that. The rush defense was equally as lousy as the pass defense. Tennessee gave up 227 yards and 4.6 YPC on the ground. The defense, as a whole, tackled very poorly and that shows in the YPC stat. It seemed like there were dozens on times where a Tennessee defender had a opportunity to tackle a Missouri running back but failed to do so.
With this loss, Tennessee falls to 5-6, which means its game against Vanderbilt will decide if it makes a bowl game or not. It cannot be overstated how important it is for this team to reach the postseason in Jeremy Pruitt’s first year. Getting 15 additional practices will be huge, not only for this team, but for next year’s squad. Not only will it be good for the guys on the team now, but also for the recruits thinking about joining Tennessee. The Vols are currently still in the hunt for multiple four and five-star prospects and going to a bowl game will be a sign of progress to them.