The final 20 seconds of the first half, just five plays, perfectly encapsulated the outcome of No. 14 Missouri’s 36-7 victory over No. 13 Tennessee, displaying complete unison between the Tigers offense and defense.
Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton, taking what Mizzou’s defense gave him, dumped off a pass into the hands of Jaylen Wright for a presumably a first down. With Wright falling down past the sticks, linebacker Triston Newson, who filled in with Ty’Ron Hopper suffering an ankle injury, poked the ball free with his fellow position mate Chuck Hicks falling on it.
With just 18 seconds left on the scoreboard, it usually points to just running the clock out and heading into the locker with a 10-7 lead. The Tigers did that as Brady Cook simply handed the ball off to Cody Schrader for a routine zone play.
But Schrader kept going, and going, and as the seconds ticked down on the scoreboard, so did the distance between the Tigers’ leading rusher for the past two years and the end zone. Schrader was eventually tackled at the Vols 47-yard line, setting the Tigers up at the edge of Harrison Mevis territory.
“We’re just trying to run the football, but then I popped one,” Schrader said. “And we practice that all the time when you pop one you go hurry up offense, and try to get another play in.”
After Cook dumped off a to Mookie Cooper for nine yards, Schrader thrashed his way up the middle before intelligently taking a slide, leaving just enough time for Mevis, Mizzou’s all-time leading scorer, to nail a 46-yard field goal heading into the break.
“Then we got that really good ball to Mookie,” Schrader said. “We practice that situation in practice all the time, especially in the running back room. We call it handcuff. We get the first, (and then) get down so you can get the field goal unit out, and so that’s basically what I did.”
The swing eight helped ensure that Tennessee didn’t have a repeat performance of what it did to the Tigers during the 2021 and 2022 seasons. Heck, add in 2020 and 2019 as well.
“Coach Drink always talks about the swing eight, which is the last four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half,” Darius Robinson said. “He always says our chance of winning is much higher if we get stops from field goals and we come out the half and get another stop. But that meant a lot because like I said our confidence was high and everyone was playing really hard today and it gives us a lot of confidence.”
With the victory, Mizzou became what Drinkwitz calls “The Tennessee State Champs,” as the Tigers became the first team to go a perfect 4-0 over all the FBS schools in the state of Tennessee this season. More impressively, the Tigers’ 29-point victory over the Vols is a larger margin than their three combined victories over Middle Tennessee State, Memphis, and Vanderbilt.
Tennessee came into Faurot Field after scoring a combined 89 points against a good Kentucky team as well as a bad UConn team. After a 56-8 victory over the Huskies, the Vols surged in front of Mizzou in the latest College Football Playoff ranking, while also not allowing 100-yard rusher the past two weeks.
But Josh Heupel’s high octane offense and the SEC’s No. 1 rush defense was put on temporary hold as the Vols left Columbia as the loser for the first time since 2017.
“I’m really proud of our entire football team,” Drinkwitz said. “All three phases came to play today.”
Mizzou, behind the gritty running of Cody Schrader, tallied 256 rushing yards, the most on the Vols defense all season, The near perfection of the Tigers’ zone running scheme put Schrader over the 1,000-yard mark for the season as he picked up 205 yards on the ground. Cook added 55 rushing yards of his own, as well as overcoming an early interception by completing 75% of his passes for 275 yards and a score.
On the other hand, Tennessee’s three-headed monster appeared as if it was a myth. Wright touched the ball just seven times for 23 yards, while Milton gained a team high 48 yards, with most of that yardage coming in garbage time. The Vols’ other two talented running backs, Jabari Small and Dylan Sampson, were nowhere to be found combining for 25 yards on the afternoon.
With Tennessee unable to establish the run with Missouri’s front seven feasting, its passing game was a non-factor as well, outside of Ramel Keyon catching a 46-yard score from Milton.
“It starts with coach (Blake) Baker and the defensive side of the ball,” Drinkwitz said. “They held Tennessee to the lowest point total I think since he (Josh Heupel) had been here...so that was really awesome.”
Missouri’s offense played a key part in making sure Tennessee couldn’t find a rhythm by establishing long jarring drives in the first half. When the first quarter ended, Mizzou compiled 24 total plays compared to Tennessee’s four. The drive spilled into the second quarter as Mevis put the first points on the board for the Tigers ending a 20-play drive that took a total of 10 minutes and 55 seconds.
“Offensively, we controlled the clock the entire game,” Drinkwitz said, as Mizzou dominated the time of possession 39:56-20:04.
Following Milton’s touchdown pass in the second quarter, Mizzou responded with a whole lot of Schrader as he picked up 43 yards off a short pass from Cook. Schrader while making most of his work with bruising runs on the ground, led the Tigers with 116 yards on five receptions.
“I don’t think there’s a more impressive performance than to rush for 207 yards, and to receive 160 yards out of the backfield,” Drinkwitz said. “What an incredible day that Superman had for us.”
Following Cook connecting with Mekhi Miller for 22 yards, Schrader powered it in himself for a seven-yard score, giving the Tigers the lead for the rest of the game. Schrader, who gives credit to his hard work and story of going from the Division II level to becoming the SEC’s leading rusher, also humbly gave his words of confidence to the offensive line, that paved the way an outstanding game.
“They all buy in,” Schrader said. “Those starting five o-line are the best in the country and I’ll stay by that for the rest of my life.”
With a tough task of facing the Vols defense presented in front of the Tigers there was what you could say an extra chip on their shoulder for the offensive line group.
“We knew all week that they were such a great run defense,” Javon Foster said. “So we knew we had to come with our A game. We knew everyday in practice we couldn’t take nothing back, we had to make sure we were doing every little thing right and I think we did a good job.”
Luther Burden, who hadn’t been quite 100%, scored his first touchdown since the South Carolina game, by darting in from 21-yards out on a quick hitter from Cook extending Mizzou’s lead to 29-7 late in the fourth quarter.
Luther Burden, a 5⭐️ WR in the Class of 2022, puts the finishing touches on Tennessee— 247Sports (@247Sports) November 11, 2023
That's Burden's 8th receiving touchdown this season.pic.twitter.com/mRXSsxeNje
Daylan Carnell officially put the game on ice as he picked off Milton, taking it two the house three plays later sealing a 29-point victory.
“It’s rewarding man,” Robinson said. “Because in practice we were struggling earlier this season without getting takeaways and coach Baker said you get four takeaways each period or we have to run. So to finally see it payoff in games is tremendous and Daylan Carnell, he’s a magnet and he always find the ball.”
Missouri returns home next week to face Florida at 6:30 pm on ESPN, another opportunity for the Tigers to prove that they belong in the upper echelon of college football.
“I think we’ve known that internally,” Schrader said. “And hopefully everyone else is seeing that and hopefully you guys believe as well.”