The Missouri Tigers (4-6, 2-5 SEC) visited the great Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, to take on the up-tempo and fifth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers (9-1, 5-1 SEC).
Boasting one of the nation’s Top-15 defenses, Mizzou looked to pose a challenge against the No. 2 scoring offense in the country and one of the most accurate passers in college football. Instead, the mighty Vols offense showcased its sheer talent and speed en route to a 66-24 victory.
Heisman hopeful quarterback Hendon Hooker reignited the Tennessee offense one week after a 13-point showing against the then-No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs. Hooker threw for 355 yards, posted four total touchdowns and tallied 50 rushing yards.
Mizzou quarterback Brady Cook, however, utilized his athleticism to spark the Tiger offense, tallying a career-high 106 rushing yards and added two total touchdowns. Despite the success on the ground though, the sophomore signal caller only recorded 217 passing yards.
The 42-point loss for the Tigers added insult to injury following last season’s 38-point victory for Tennessee in Columbia, but this year’s meeting did illustrate a key trait for Mizzou—improvement on offense.
After one quarter last year, the Tigers trailed 28-3.
This time around, Mizzou entered the quarter break with a 7-7 tie despite Tennessee piecing together a seven-play, 91-yard touchdown drive on its first possession. The Vols’ high-octane offense flew out of the gate with a trio of explosive plays, including a 38-yard catch by Bru McCoy, who finished with a game-high of nine receptions for 111 yards.
Running back Jabari Smith, who surged through the Mizzou defensive front for 54 yards, capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown rush. Less than two minutes later, Smith and the Tennessee offense stepped back onto the field following a punt.
After finding Maxwell Award (Collegiate Player of the Year) semifinalist Jalin Hyatt for 24 yards, the offense stalled out in Mizzou territory. However, with their up-tempo, risky nature, the Vols went for it on 4th & 4 and met the wrath of DJ Coleman, who dropped Hooker for a sack.
The momentum carried to offense, where Cook rushed for 31 yards and added 25 yards through the air before pitching a toss to Luther Burden III for a four-yard touchdown run. Burden, a true freshman, is up to five touchdowns on the season, including three of the rushing variety.
Looking for a bounce-back drive, Hooker and Hyatt, who finished with seven receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown, flashed their explosiveness. Facing another fourth down in Mizzou territory, the duo connected for a 30-yard competition, setting up a 3-yard touchdown rush from Jaylen Wright.
After another three-and-out from Mizzou, the Tennessee offense kept the punches coming.
Hooker worked down the field in just six plays, capping a 72-yard touchdown drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Princeton Fant in the back of the end zone. Down two scores, Cook led the offense right back down the field, connecting with Tauskie Dove on a fourth down attempt for a 43-yard touchdown pass.
The trio of Hooker, Small and Wright combined for 59 of their 155 total rush yards on the ensuing drive, which lasted just six plays and ended with a 14-yard touchdown run from Hooker.
For the one of the first times all day, Mizzou and Tennessee then traded scoreless drives. The Tigers punted after a three-and-out while the Vols failed to convert on yet another fourth down attempt.
Given one last opportunity before half, Cook dashed through the middle of the field for a 40-yard gain before Harrison “Thiccer Kicker” Mevis drilled a 32-yard field goal to close the half.
Opening the second half, the Mizzou defense forced its biggest stop of the afternoon, forcing a punt after a five-play, 23-yard drive from the Vols. Given hope, Cook ran with the opportunity, flying through the defense for 20 yards before connecting with Dominic Lovett over the top for a 38-yard score.
The Mizzou celebration was short-lived, however, as Tennessee turned on the jets.
Hooker found an uncovered Hyatt two plays later for a 68-yard touchdown pass down the sideline to invigorate the sellout crowd of 101,915. They showcased their impact one the Tigers’ ensuing drive, which exhibited three false starts and then a punt.
Tennessee continued to hold its foot on the gas pedal from there, while Mizzou fizzled out.
The Vols posted scores on four of their final five drives, including touchdown rushes from Sampson, who had a game-high 98 rushing yards, and Wright as well as a 46-yard touchdown connection between Ramel Keyton and backup Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III.
After that early third quarter score, Mizzou mustered just 66 yards of total offense with five punts and a fumble. One of the few highlights of the second half was the emergence of Barrett Banister in the passing game. The fifth-year receiver led the Tigers with seven receptions for 73 yards, including three catches on third downs.
Tennessee exposed the one part of Mizzou’s team that hadn’t showcased much weakness—its defense. Entering the game allowing only 303.7 yards per game, the Vols posted 724 total yards and made the Tiger defenders fatigued. Perhaps the most significant factor in the loss, Tennessee recorded 12 passing plays of more than 15 yards as well as 12 rushes of more than 10 yards.
Explosiveness and tempo were topics of conversation throughout the week, and it looked as if Mizzou learned little from its 62-24 drubbing last season. With only two games remaining, the pressure will be on the Tigers to defeat both New Mexico State and Arkansas in order to secure a bowl berth. After its defeat to Tennessee, however, there’s bound to be questions about whether the 2022 Missouri Tigers have much left in the tank.