The Missouri Tigers traveled to Neyland Stadium to play the No.21 Tennessee Volunteers with hopes of an upset that never came to fruition.
Tennessee got the ball after the kickoff, and they stepped on the gas immediately. Jarrett Guarantano made great throws, the Volunteers’ O-Line bullied the Tiger front 7, and two 4th&1 conversions on QB sneaks led to a Ty Chandler touchdown to complete a 14 play drive.
When the Tigers got the ball back, a couple Larry Rountree runs gave the offense hope, but a 3rd& 9 read option resulted in another punt for Mizzou. It looked like Tennessee would continue their success from their first drive; Eric Gray was running all over the Tigers, but a big pass breakup by freshman Ennis Rakestraw forced a field goal that would miss wide left.
Maybe a big defensive play would be the spark Drinkwitz’s offense needed, but that was far from the truth. A 3-play drive that netted -4 yards was all the Tigers could muster, and Tennessee went back to their ways of their first drive as they bullied their way into the endzone to go up 14-0. Mizzou also received a backbreaking blow in that drive when it seemed Nick Bolton had forced a fumble that Martez Manuel recovered to begin the second quarter, but it was called back for a defensive penalty and Eric Gray would punch it in on the very next play.
For an ineffective Shawn Robinson, the first quarter was all she wrote. Drink turned to the RS-Freshman Connor Bazelak to start the second quarter after Robinson began 1-4 with 0 yards passing (yikes!). The change paid instant dividends as a previously stagnant began to move the ball. Bazelak began to move the ball in the air with big completions to Jalen Knox and Damon Hazelton for 14 and 21 yards, repectively, while Larry Rountree III continued to grind it on the ground. The only thing that hindered the Tigers was a big 3rd down drop in the red zone. When asked about the drop in the postgame, Drink said, “We got to address it… We can’t drop the football.” Nevertheless, a 27-yard Harrison Mevis field goal was a big improvement for the Tigers.
Momentum seemed as if it would stay with Mizzou as they forced a Tennessee punt on the next Volunteer possession. Bazelak and the offense returned to the field and continued where they left off. On his drive, the Tigers would stall a little earlier, however, but Mevis would deliver another field goal, this time from 50, making it a one score game at 14-6 with 4:17 left in the second quarter.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, it was as if the score tightening woke the Tennessee offense right back up. On an 8-play, 75-yard drive, the Volunteers would ride their dynamic duo in the back field of Eric Gray and Ty Chandler all the way to the endzone pushing the lead back to 15 with little to no time less than a minute to play in the half.
The Tigers were on offense first to start the second half and needed to continue some of that offensive momentum from the second quarter. Despite a 35-yard completion to Tyler Badie on the first play of the drive, the Tigers would only gain 6 more yards and need to punt.
A phenomenal Grant McKinnis punt would pin the Vols on their own 8, but Guarantano, the O-Line, and Gray would punish the Tigers again on a 92-yard drive capped off by another Guarantano sneak. That score put Tennessee up 28-6 halfway through the 3rd quarter and Mizzou had to answer.
Bazelak would deliver exactly what the Tigers needed. On a huge 4th&1 at the Tennessee 44, he completed an improbable 37-yard pass to TE Logan Christopherson to keep the drive moving and put Mizzou in the red zone. Scoring wouldn’t come easy for the Tigers, however. Rountree would need to convert another Mizzou 4th down, this time from the 1-yard line, to finish the drive with a TD. Despite missing the 2-point conversion that followed the Tigers still made it a 2-score game with 2:06 left in the 3rd.
It looked like a comeback might be in the cards when the Mizzou defense forced a 3&out after an Isaiah McGuire sack on 3rd down ensured the Tigers would get the ball back with the chance to make it a one-score game, again.
The Tigers got the ball on their 36, and it seemed like the stars were aligning. Bazelak found Badie and Hazelton early in the drive to move the ball into Volunteer territory. Another big 4th down came up on the Tennessee 27-yard line. This time, Bazelak wouldn’t be able deliver any magic as Theo Jackson picked him off and returned the ball to midfield with 13:06 to play.
That play all but sealed the deal, but Tennesse left nothing in doubt by marching down the field once more to put the Vols up 35-12 on another Guarantano sneak. Mizzou would get the ball back for one more possession, but nothing came of it and the Vols were able to bleed out the remaining 2:25 to move to 2-0 while sending the Tigers back to Columbia still in search of their first win. It won’t get any easier either as the Tigers have to travel to Baton Rouge next week to play the defending champs.
After the game, it was clear the message from the team was execution is key. When asked about the team’s performance as a whole, Drink said “There were flashes, but there’s just not the consistency right now.” He followed it up by saying, “I’m just trying to execute plays, we got to execute, tricks aren’t winning in the SEC… we’ve got to execute better that’s the solution.” Larry Rountree echoed similar thoughts. Talking about what went wrong in today’s game, Larry said, “All the mistakes we made today we inflicted on ourselves.” He continued this thought later, “We got to the red zone. We just didn’t execute.”