Tennessee is a college football team. Because of this they are absolutely beatable. We’ve seen two teams play them close before and they’ve even lost before! It can be done! But it requires a perfect game from both your offense and defense. And on Saturday Missouri was far from perfect. Let’s take it away:
1. Tennessee is a legitimate top five team
If there was any question, there ya go. The offense was not nearly as efficient as it prefers to be but the cumulative tempo wore out Mizzou’s defense. Missouri’s offense isn’t anywhere close to world beaters but Tennessee was able to take some punches and adapt to shut down Missouri’s offense. Tennessee has an identity, they have a scheme that works, and they have competent tacticians on both sides of the ball. That’s how you become a top five team. Missouri isn’t there, Tennessee is.
2. Self-inflicted wounds strike again
Illegal procedures. Substitution issues. Whiffed tackles. Confusing end-of-quarter decision making. False starts. To beat elite teams you need to play as perfectly as possible and hope the opposition stumbles a few times. Against Georgia, Missouri was able to achieve that perfect balance for almost the entire game. Against Tennessee, Missouri was able to hang around for about 35 minutes. Drink’s play management in 4th down and scoring position continues to be the oddest stuff: how many times will Macon go out there, line up at receiver, then go under center to “try to draw the defense offsides”? He finally called a play with Macon under center and the pitch to Elijah Young was misplayed. And how many times will Drink mismanage his downs and time outs when working the clock? Why did he spike the ball with 17 seconds left at the end of half when he still had a timeout? I’m not sure how much an offensive coordinator hire fixes these issues but I have a hard time understanding Drink’s logic at times and it further harms his team’s ability to win.
3. The defense was far from perfect but still great
It was the most points and yards that this defense had given up all year. But this is the best, most explosive offense they faced all year. We’ll see how the success rates, yards per play, and points per scoring opportunity shake out and compare to Tennessee’s season averages but...this is what the Volunteers do. That tempo is cumulative and the Tigers were gassed by the beginning of the 3rd quarter. It was an admirable effort when they absolutely had to be perfect and couldn’t be. This game doesn’t take anything away from the incredible rebuilt Blake Baker has managed this year.
4. Brady Cook was...good?
His receivers suffered from some bad drops, and of course, he suffered from some curious play calling. But Brady Cook made some key plays and some clutch throws over the entirety of the game. The numbers might not blow you away - and I’m not saying he doesn’t make some curious decisions at times - but if Jack Abraham and Tyler Macon are your only real other options at quarterback, Cook is clearly the best and showcased an ability to keep this offense hanging around for a bit.
5. This team can battle
And what I said of Cook is certainly what you can say for this team. There was a very small chance that Missouri was going to win this game and everybody knew it. Tennessee came out looking to make an immediate impression and stomp out the Tigers quickly. But Missouri kept it a game into the 2nd half with an obviously limited offense and a defense that was getting gassed. It would have been very easy for the team to roll over or take it easy and, for the most part, they didn’t. Mr. Rogers famously said that, when he was scared, he would look for the helpers; when your team is outmatched, look for the guys who are giving effort and give a damn. Cook, Burden, Schrader, Lovett, Tollison, Dove, Banister, Robinson, George, Bailey, Rakestraw...plenty of guys were making plays and giving a damn. Not all of them will return but, in the midst of a blowout, those are things that can make you feel better long term.