I think we can all admit objectively that Tennessee is not a great team this year, BUT you don’t need to be a great team to beat Missouri at this point. In fact, Tennessee has stolen Barry Odom’s playbook, getting blown out and upset early in the year and then going on a tear near the end of the year by beating up bad teams (hi, Missouri is a bad team this year!). The Volunteers have figured out exactly what they can do on offense and just do that over and over while their defense’s goal is simply mitigating the damage of scoring opportunities. So, it was very....karmic? Fitting?...that as I sat in my basement, watching the game slip away with poor execution and tactics, I realized, “Yeah, this is what it was like to lose to Missouri in ‘17 and ‘18.” Oh well! Remember, we watch Missouri football for fun.
When your offense is without its starting tight end, starting slot receiver, and your quarterback is held together by Chinese paper and whispers, you tend to struggle to move the ball. Lo and behold:
The Forward Pass
I mentioned in my preview that it was slightly easier to pass on Tennessee than running, and that did hold true: 39% success rate through the air, 34% on the ground. I actually liked the game plan of heavily targeting the tight ends and slots, the issue was those guys were Daniel Parker, Jr., Niko Hea, and Barrett Banister instead of Albert O and JJ. And really, in the end, the raw stats actually tell you more about the overall success here than the advanced: 181 yards on 31 attempts isn’t enough to keep the chains moving.
The Efficiency Plays
Missouri had scoring drives of 11, 9, 8, and 9 plays. They had 4 three-and-outs (barely hitting one of my goals for the offense) while also punting on drives of 8, 6, and 5 plays. The efficiency plays were working, its just the talent working on those plays didn’t do enough to shake a tackle or move much after possession.
Third Dow-ohhhhhh nooooooo
Missouri gained an average of 3.9 yards whenever they had a 1st down and faced an average third down of 6.5 yards. Subsequently, they went 4-15. Third downs: not a strong suit!
If you had told me before the game started that DeMarkus Acy and Jarvis Ware would not play the majority of the game, I would have figured that Tennessee racked up 400+ yards and scored 42 points. That would have been half right.
The Passing Game
Sooooooo....the good news, as it were, is that the Tigers did an excellent job of making Jauan Jennings incredibly inefficient. 5 catches on 13 targets is over 40% worse than his season average, and Missouri did a good job of bracketing him with safeties and breaking up passes (7 passes defensed in the game... wonder why Coach Gibbs coached them to not get an interception?). The issue, however, is that a) when Jennings did catch the ball, terrible things happened, and b) Josh Palmer absolutely abused the nickel/safety in coverage out of his slot position. Oh, and Marquez Callaway also went over 100. But when you’re rolling out your third and fourth string corners against the one of the league’s best receiving corps, yeah, the safeties are going to have to double the outside and leave someone open. When your defensive ends just...like...don’t exist and there’s no pass rush, it’s very easy for a defense to give up that many yards. Life is pain.
As I predicted, Missouri was excellent in shutting downs the Volunteers’ game plan on standard downs but tended to get gutted on passing downs. Overall, Tennessee had a 32% success rate on passing downs but a whopping 52% success rate when they decided to throw it on passing downs. Why they decide to run at all is just absolutely baffling to me.
Sigh. It was almost beautiful watching Guarantano and the Tennessee offense put on a damn clinic on downs management. The Volunteers average 9.1 yards on first downs, still faced an average third down of 7.9, but were able to convert 9-16 because the backup, backup corners can’t cover those receivers for 5 seconds. For all of the intricacies and complications of this sport, sometimes it just comes down to three dudes outplaying their counterparts.
Missouri was quite a bit worse on both sides of the ball than I anticipated but still held close. Tennessee out-gained Missouri 526-280, yes, but on a per play average out-gained the Tigers 7.2-4.2, and on a per drive average out-gained Missouri 43.8-25.5 while getting 7 scoring opportunities to the Tigers’ 4. In an average game that would indicate a score of, say, Tennessee 42 - Missouri 17. However, despite getting gashed in the open field, Missouri’s defense was able to stand firm in scoring situations and hold the Volunteers to a ghastly 3.4 points per opportunity. The Tiger offense, meanwhile, was able to take advantage of their scoring opportunities, averaging 5 points per trip. The fact that the Tigers were out-gained by so much looks bad, but contextually they did enough to keep it close. Shame we don’t count “close” in the win-loss column. Please beat Arkansas!