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Five plays that defined Mizzou’s 36-7 annihilation of Tennessee

After getting outscored by 80 points in their previous two matchups, the Tigers ran all over the Vols in a statement win. Here are five plays that defined the dominant evening.

Cal Tobias/Rock M Nation

Welcome back to “Five Plays”, where I’ll break down the previous week’s football game in, you guessed it, five plays. Over the past ten seasons, the average college football team has run around 70-73 plays per game, but most of them don’t matter as much as others. Oftentimes, there’s a select few that can tell the story of an entire game, and I’m here to break them down. To the film room!

One meme recap to describe Mizzou’s 36-7 victory over Tennessee:

In 2021 and 2022, Tennessee destroyed Mizzou in the trenches...and pretty much everywhere else.

In 2023, Mizzou returned the favor. While it wasn’t as extreme as 2021, Mizzou destroyed Tennessee in the trenches...and pretty much everywhere else.

Mizzou’s 255 rushing yards and five yards per carry were the most UT had allowed since November 2021. Defensively, the Tigers held the Vols to just 83 rushing yards, their fewest in a game since also November 2021. Throughout this season, Tennessee had been exceptional at running the ball (3rd in the nation in rushing yards per game) and defending the run (14th in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game).

Sure, the change in game script kept the Vols from passing, as establishing the run isn’t exactly ideal when you’re down by several touchdowns late in a game. But that was a testament to Mizzou controlling the time of possession; the Tigers’ T.O.P. nearly doubled that of the Vols. A big reason why UT couldn’t generate much offensively is that they literally weren’t on the field for most of the game.

As you’ve read already, the historic evening required a deep dive into the archives. Tennessee hadn’t scored this few points in a game in the Josh Heupel Era, and Mizzou hadn’t beaten an AP top-15 team by this many points since...ever. Since the AP Poll was invented in November 1934, the largest margin of victory for the Tigers over an AP top-15 team was 27 (Oklahoma State in 1975).

On Military Appreciation Day, the Tigers looked like a bunch of war tanks barreling over the enemy. Here are five plays from a good ol’ fashioned butt-kicking on Saturday evening:

Play #1: Immediate fireworks

There are so many plays I could’ve used to describe Cody Schrader’s monster game. He had nine carries of 10+ yards (!) and three carries of 20+ yards. The Big Engine that Could was chugging forward all night long en route to 321 (!) total yards.

I’m choosing the very first play for two reasons. One is that it proved to be an omen. Throughout the afternoon, Schrader just kept running, and Tennessee couldn’t do much to stop him. That tone was set on the first play of the game.

From the moment Schrader motioned out of the backfield to the moment he realized he stepped out of bounds, he never stopped running. Take note of how he runs the route; no wasted movement, no hesitance, no extra fluff. He just...goes. Sure, his running form is ever-so-slightly funny; I couldn’t help but think of Officer Earl from Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

But the way he ran this route wasn’t just a representation of how Schrader plays, but his career arc as well. Despite obstacles blocking his path to success, Schrader never stopped going, and despite Brady Cook not immediately throwing him the ball, he never stopped going. He persisted. He didn’t give up. The result? Massive success on a big stage.

The second reason I chose this play is because, well, I told this play might happen back in July! Out of the seven plays that I thought could look good with Mizzou’s personnel, we saw the fourth one (a halfback wheel) come to life on Saturday, (Click here and scroll to Play #4 to read my full analysis).

Running backs getting involved in the passing game. Pre-snap motion. Miscommunication on defense. Big play. This is exactly what I’d envisioned, even if Cook seemed reluctant to throw those kinds of passes (according to Schrader, at least).

That’s something I’ve been messing with Brady about. I was like “man, give me the ball more, give me the ball more’, and he’s like ‘well, always be prepared in scramble drill to get the ball’. And that’s his way to say you’re not getting the ball,” Schrader said. “I think {the Volunteers} were playing Cloud, I was able to keep up the divide on my landmark, and as I turned, I see Brady running...I just wish I didn’t go out of bounds.”

Other than Schrader’s hard running, the miscommunication was the other very noticeable part of this play. Tennessee was playing zone defense, which is fine, except that no one picked up Schrader. Again, that’s the danger pre-snap motion; if a defense doesn’t properly communicate in a matter of seconds, the above result is more likely to happen than not.

Overall, it was a legendary performance from an inspiring player. JC Carlies called his performance “iconic”; Javon Foster called it “insane”. Whatever word you want to use, it certainly warranted Schrader getting lifted onto his teammates shoulders Rudy-style after the game. In the few moments he was literally above everyone else, he pounded his chest and yelled at the sky. It was a moment of liberation for a player who’s shouldered doubt and low odds from the outside for a long time.

“That’s my number one moment in my entire life,” Schrader said.

Play #2: Huzzah! A turnover!

For Mizzou, turnovers and victories seem to have a positive correlation. In the four games the Tigers didn’t force a turnover, two of them were losses, and another was the clunker against Middle Tennessee State.

However, Saturday saw Mizzou generate three of them, which tied their season-high. It also saw the Tiger come away with arguably the most valuable turnover of the season.

With Tennessee threatening in the red zone down by just three, Jaylen Wright caught a pass in the flat. Wright, who had a fumbling problem in 2022 that’d seemed to resolve itself this season, saw those demons re-appear when Kris Abrams-Draine got his helmet on the football.

That play catalyzed what was arguably a 10-point swing to end the half, as Schrader marched right down the field to set up Harrison Mevis for a half-ending field goal.

Just like a few weeks ago at Kentucky, it was an opportunistic day for Mizzou’s defense. The Tigers recovered another Vol fumble, albeit being Milton losing the ball because his elbow got bonked by his own lineman. But despite Mizzou not actually forcing the fumble, it was a huge confidence booster for a unit that’s struggled with creating takeaways this season.

“It’s rewarding,” Robinson said. “In practice, when we were struggling earlier in the season getting takeaways, Coach {Blake} Baker used to make us get four takeaways each period or we had to run. So to finally see it pay off in a game is tremendous.”

Speaking of turnovers...

Play #3: Good night, Tennessee

Statistics debunk the myth of someone being “due”. It’s a folly. A farce. Not real. For example, if you miss nine basketball jump shots in a row, your chances of making a shot don't suddenly increase on the tenth try because you’re “due”. Your chances of hitting a jumper remain about the same as they did on the previous nine shots.

However, it really felt like the player Darius Robinson called a “magnet” was due for a takeaway. Ever since Daylan Carnell’s first game against Louisiana Tech last season, it was apparent that he had a sixth sense for where the football was going to end up. Combined with his fearless style of play, he’s turned himself into one of the most impactful young Swiss Army knives in the nation.

The only big thing missing from his resume in 2023 was an interception. That was no longer after Saturday night.

This was an example of using the past to help with the present. Prior to this play, Milton had thrown a lot of his passes around and outside the hashes. JC Carlies almost jumped a couple of those throws, and even though none turned into interceptions, there was a feeling that someone was due.

“We knew one of us was gonna get one,” Carlies said after the game, with “us” meaning the defensive backs and “one” being an interception.

Sure enough, it was the known ballhawk who came away with the turnover. Before Milton is even halfway through his throwing motion, Carnell, who was in zone coverage, started booking it toward the slant route coming in from the outside. The half-second Milton took to plant his feet and throw wasn’t just Hendon Hooker-esque; it also allowed Carnell to gain ground on his eventual trip to the house that sealed the game for good.

Defensively, Mizzou wore down Tennessee. With every pass that sailed away from an orange jersey and every run that went nowhere, the spirit of the Vols offense seemed dismembered throughout most of the second half. The pick-six was the hammer that officially broke it.

“I could tell in the second or third quarter that they didn’t want to be out there no more,” Robinson said.

Play #4: Tennessee’s defense gets pranked

Sun Tzu is a revered Chinese historical figure who authored “The Art of War”, arguably one of the most famous novels regarding war and conflict. One of the more famous quotes reads as such:

“All warfare is based on deception.”

This season, Mizzou has won several mini-wars (a.k.a. individual plays) with deception. It’s a big reason why the Tigers have found so much success on offense this season, and it popped up a handful of times on Saturday.

Even more specifically, deception has been prominent at the goal line. While this time around didn’t see a fake reverse, it involved Brady Cook faking a lateral, throwing off the defense and scoring as a result.

After watching this several times, I counted seven white jerseys visibly falling for fakes; six for the fake pitch to Peat, and one for the fake jet sweep to Burden. That’s two-thirds of the defense opening up a lane for a touchdown simply because of a ball fake.

“Anytime you can get safeties rotating, you can make different plays thinking you’re doing one thing, then doing another,” Schrader said. “That’s what makes our offense special. We have a quarterback who can run and throw, and you got playmakers like Luther, Theo, Mookie and Mekhi on the outside.”

Also helping clear that path was the offensive line, who had another excellent outing. Every single black jersey that had a blocking assignment on this play won it. Pick any black jersey that blocked, watch them throughout the play, and you’ll see that they helped substantially.

“I’m able to sit in some meetings with them on Friday nights, and I get to see how they operate, the way Coach {Brandon} Jones demands excellence in that room, and then it’s accepted by the rest of the guys in that room,” Schrader said. “They all buy in.”

Play #5: A Luther Burden resurrection

For most of Mizzou’s past two games, Burden was limping around. He looked about 50-60% of his usual self.

Then, the football gods watched Mizzou dominate Tennessee in every facet of the game, and as a reward, gifted the Tigers a moment of a fully healthy Burden.

I guess you truly don't realize the value of something or someone until it's gone, which has been the exact case here. It’s a huge part of why Mizzou’s offense became slightly more stagnant against Georgia after Burden got hurt. Since the Bulldogs could see that Burden was hurt, they didn't need to worry about his presence nearly as much; the Tigers became far less dangerous and far easier to defend.

On the last play, deception was the main theme. While it was less obvious here, it was still present. First, the play-action sucks Tennessee’s linebackers toward the line of scrimmage. Then, the motion man, Mekhi Miller, runs a decoy route to take a Tennessee defensive back out of the play and pave a clear path for Burden.