Whew. I think I need a cigarette!
Tennessee has pushed Mizzou around over the past few years, literally and figuratively. No matter how well the Tigers seem to be playing, the Volunteers have been the one team that has Mizzou’s number. So, naturally, Mizzou’s best team in about a decade offered the program a prime chance to get back in the win column against their SEC East rivals.
Still, I don’t think anyone saw that coming. Missouri thoroughly and utterly dismantled Josh Heupel’s Volunteers in a chippy November match up. Mizzou’s offense did just about anything they wanted. The defense had their way with the Volunteers’ vaunted rushing attack. And Eli Drinkwitz twisted the knife in by using several time outs in the dying minutes of the game, including icing the Volunteers’ kicker on the last field goal attempt (which he missed, by the way.)
Here are five takeaways from Mizzou’s dominant 36-7 win over Tennessee.
1. Cody Schrader belongs in the All-SEC conversation
Mr. Schrader. Please, take a bow.
205 yards rushing on 35 carries and a touchdown. Five catches out of the backfield for 116 yards. One of five players during this century of college football to rush for 200+ and catch 100+ in the same game.
You don’t need analysis with those numbers, but we’ll provide some anyway. Schrader was an absolute menace on Saturday afternoon, hitting every hole his offensive line opened up and trucking every Tennessee defender that got in his way. He didn’t look fast, he looked explosive. He didn’t look strong, he looked monstrous. It was easily the best performance Schrader has turned in during his time in Columbia and arguably the best by a Mizzou running back in a few decades.
It should be noted that Schrader has now opened up a commanding lead on the SEC rushing leaderboard with almost 200 yards in hand on Ray Davis of Kentucky. His personal story, combined with the raw numbers has the Mizzou star in line for a potential All-SEC First Team selection.
2. Was that the Mizzou defense’s best performance of the season?
The name of Tennessee’s game all season has been run, run, run. With three dangerous running backs and a shifty quarterback, the onus was on Mizzou’s defense to control the ground game and the line of scrimmage. Blaker Baker also mentioned earlier this week that he thinks they might have been too aggressive against Georgia and wanted to play a little more under control.
Do you think they got the job done? Not only did Tennessee have a season low in total rushing yards (83), they only averaged 3.6 per carry. Mizzou’s defense also forced three turnovers — well, two if you don’t count the friendly fire in Tennessee’s backfield — including a pick-six, and kept Joe Milton from doing much through the air. Tennessee’s only score came on an exceptional throw from Milton and one-on-one ball from Dont’e Thornton, Jr. in the first quarter. They wouldn’t sniff the end zone again.
Perhaps most impressive? They did it without leading tackler Ty’Ron Hopper, who had to leave with what appeared to be an ankle or foot injury in the first half. Baker’s defense is peaking at the right time for the Tigers, who still have two games against inconsistent but dangerous quarterbacks from Florida and Arkansas.
3. An impeccable response from Brady Cook
Much was made early this season about Brady Cook’s flawless form. And it was well-deserved! After all, he does hold the record for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception.
But Cook’s decision-making has come under scrutiny over the past few weeks. One could argue it was the main reason the Tigers couldn’t bring home the upset win over Georgia last weekend. And he got off to a poor start against Tennessee, throwing a (tipped) ball into traffic to put the Tigers on the back foot early.
But as frustrated as you would have to be with that throw, you should be even more impressed with his response. Following the interception, Cook was nearly perfect, going 17/22 for 237 yards and a touchdown, plus 55 yards rushing and another touchdown. Against a better-than-they-showed defense, Cook had a great bounce back performance that shows how important he’s been to this team’s success.
4. The offensive line needs more discipline
I’m going to follow in BK’s footsteps by saving the one slightly negative point for the fourth slot. And don’t worry, I’ll make it short. After all, it’s something we’ve heard too much.
The offensive line spent much of the game pushing Tennessee around at will. So why, when the Tigers were driving to seal the game up late in the fourth quarter, were they so jumpy? The line was penalized several times over the course of the Tiger offense’s final touchdown drive, and Connor Tollison still had trouble getting on the same page as Cook.
Penalties didn’t cost the Tigers on Saturday night because, frankly, they weren’t a problem for most of the game. But Missouri will need to close games out in the final weeks of the season, and the offensive line has to make sure they’re not making it harder than necessary.
5. The road to a New Year’s Six bowl continues
It doesn’t feel like it because of the thorough spanking Mizzou administered over the course of the afternoon. But make no mistake: Tennessee is a very good football team. They came into Saturday’s game ranked 11th in SP+ and would’ve been a name brand contender for the SEC’s New Year’s Six bowl selection had they gotten that far. And Mizzou just waltzed onto the field and kicked their teeth in.
The Tigers will have competition to get some of the sexier bowl bids later this month, and demolishing one of the best teams on your schedule is a good way to prove your worth. Mizzou still has two opportunities to show they’re worthy of playing on the big stage this winter, and it would behoove them to dominate those games. If Saturday’s game is any indication, that’s exactly what they plan on doing.