It was a bad day to be the Missouri Tigers on Saturday.
After a couple of early-season letdowns, Missouri fans were hoping that this weekend against Tennessee would be the game where their Tigers finally got right. Unfortunately for the Tiger faithful, things went from bad to worse.
The Volunteers didn’t just walk into Faurot Field and dominate the Tigers. They ran in, and never stopped. Tennessee finished with 452 rushing yards and 677 yards of total offense and were ready from the first snap; the same could not be said for the Tigers.
The Volunteers jumped right on the Tigers from the get-go. After winning the coin toss, they deferred and Mizzou’s offense took the field, but a sack aided the Volunteers in forcing a three and out.
When the Volunteers got the ball back, it took all of 1:15 for QB Hendon Hooker to find WR Javonta Payton in the endzone and put them up 7-0 early.
In need of a response, the Missouri offense came out firing, but couldn’t be stopped from beating themselves. Good passing was nullified by three holding penalties, and the Tigers settled for a 43-yard field goal from Harrison Mevis.
After the game, Connor Bazelak said, when asked about the holding calls stalling the Tiger offense, “You just got to overcome the adversity, you have to play the game to the point that refs don’t matter.”
Tennessee responded almost immediately by finding the end zone again. This time it was an 8-yard Tiyon Evans run that capped a 75-yard drive as the Tiger defense had no answers for the Vols tempo early.
Needing another response, the Tigers didn’t answer this time. One first down courtesy of Tyler Badie was all they could muster. However, Grant McKinniss was able to pin the Volunteers on their own 8-yard line.
Despite McKinniss’ fantastic punt, on the very first Volunteer play of the next series Evans found a hole in the Tiger defense and took it 92-yards to the endzone. Evans would finish with 156 yards on 15 carries with 3 TD after being quoted earlier in the week saying, “We’re going to have some fun,” in reference to facing the Missouri defense. This score, his second touchdown of the day, made it 21-3 in favor of Tennessee, and the bleeding was far from over.
A Connor Bazelak interception that was returned to the Missouri 1-yard line was the result of the next Tiger drive, and one play later, Tennessee punched it in to make it 28-3 before the first quarter was even over. After the game, Mizzou Head Coach Eli Drinkwitz pinpointed the interception as a turning point in the game.
“I think the biggest issue was the interception put us in a really bad spot,” Drinkwitz said. “At that point it’s an uphill battle and kind of changes the way you’re trying to attack everything.”
In need of any sort of momentum, the Tigers turned to RB Tyler Badie and he delivered. Finding holes that hadn’t been there earlier in the game, a heavy dose of Badie eventually ended in a 6-yard rushing touchdwon by the senior running back that cut the Volunteer lead to 28-10.
But just like earlier in this game, for every punch Missouri threw, Tennessee had three more coming back.
A 5-play, 73-yard touchdown drive followed by a 10-play, 86-yard touchdown drive was how Tennessee erased Missouri’s counterpunch and all but buried the Tigers in their coffin with a 42-10 lead. The Volunteers added another field goal before half to make it 45-10, and a halftime exodus of Mizzou fans from Faurot Field followed.
With the Tigers just looking to turn the page in the second half and reset, they saw some improvement early on. The defense forced a Tennessee field goal, and on the ensuing kickoff, CB Kris Abrams Draine took the ball from one goal-line to the other with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. After the game, Abrams-Draine deflected all the credit to his teammates, “It was really everyone else but me, everyone doing their job,” said the sophomore.
However, that positive burst from the Tigers was quickly put out by the Volunteers as they marched right down the field again. This time Hooker found WR Cedric Tillman on 3rd and 18 for a 27-yard touchdown.
To make matters worse, Connor Bazelak was intercepted on the drive that followed up the Volunteers’ score, but for the first time all game, the Missouri defense was able to hold the potent Volunteer offense with a somewhat controversial goal-line stand.
To provide some minor consolation to an otherwise deflating day, the Mizzou offense followed up the goal-line stand by going 99 yards on 10 plays finishing with a 4-yard rush by WR Boo Smith.
In his postgame press conference, Drinkwitz pointed to this sequence as a sign of his team’s effort. “You could easily just give them the end zone, we didn’t do that. Our offense went 99 yards and scored so they were still fighting. We weren’t executing, but we were still fighting.”
Before the end of the game, Tennessee added one more touchdown, and the final score read 62-24 in favor of the Volunteers making this the largest defeat of the Drinkwitz era.
As for his message to the team after a loss like this, Drinkwitz said, “You’ve got one or two options. Either circle up as teammates and coaches, fight for each other, and fight your way out of this or you point fingers.”