Danny Parker's thoughtsOpportunity for Tennessee against No. 20 Missouri came and went like the home football season in Knoxville.
A lost fumble, a crucial drop that equaled an interception, two penalties on on-sides kickoffs, numerous drops by wide receivers...it was all just too much to knock the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division leader off its pedestal.
The Tennessee offense didn't pass the 200-yard mark until there were less than 6 minutes to go in the game Saturday night. Part of that was due to self-inflicted wounds, part of it was the visitors simply being a quality defense.
The Missouri front seven proved that the Tennessee offense still has mountains to move before it's an above-average group by SEC standards, racking up six sacks of an elusive quarterback and holding Jalen Hurd to 40 yards on 11 attempts.
Defensively, the Big Orange still can't figure out how to play red-zone defense as the Missouri was a perfect 4-for-4 (three touchdowns). Opponents have 29 touchdowns in 48 red-zone trips on the year. While Maty Mauk was sacked three times, his legs proved to be back-breaking at times. The Tigers totaled 180 on the ground on 45 attempts.
Evan Berry continues to show some explosive ability, averaging 30 yards per kickoff return on four attempts — and that's with him falling down at his own 14-yard line once. The fake field goal for a touchdown was impressive as the staff rolled the dice after seeing the Tigers put 11 on the line of scrimmage and the play having some success during bye week practice. Matt Darr wasn't perfect on the night (39-yarder late), but he had one of his best performances, averaging 46.5 per punt. Aaron Medley made the kicks he needed to, and the freshman's lone blemish was a kickoff out of bounds.
Rally time for the Vols, who now can't see the 8-5 record fans hoped to hang up by the fireplace for the offseason. Standing between Tennessee and the postseason is Vanderbilt. I will not be picking against the Volunteers in that one.
Special teams — A
Randy Moore's thoughts
I’m guessing Tennessee set an NCAA record in Saturday night’s 29-21 loss to No. 19 Missouri. The Vols recovered two onside kicks in the game’s final two minutes and did not get the football either time. They were ruled offsides on the first kick, then ruled to have touched the ball a few feet before it went the required 10 yards on the second.
Although the controversial ending cost Tennessee a chance for a miracle comeback (a la the one at South Carolina three weeks ago), it shouldn’t obscure the fact that Missouri deserved to win. The Tigers outgained the Vols 410 yards to 279 and dominated third down, converting 8 of 17 while limiting the Vols to 5 of 15. The visitors won the turnover battle 2-0, as well.
Simply put, Tennessee just didn’t play well enough to win. The Vols’ first three possessions began at their 35-yard line, Missouri’s 42 and Missouri’s 29. Despite this superior field position, Tennessee managed just three points. The Vols finally put together a touchdown drive in the second quarter, thanks to some trickery – a 31-yard pass by holder Patrick Ashford to Alex Ellis on a fake field goal.
Other than that gimmick play, Tennessee’s offense consisted of two Aaron Medley field goals until the game was nearly over. Down 29-13 with 6:22 left, the Vols took advantage of a soft Missouri defense to drive 79 yards for a TD and a two-point conversion that trimmed the deficit to 29-21 and set the stage for the two onside kicks.
Unlike South Carolina and Kentucky, Missouri found an answer for Vol quarterback Josh Dobbs. He completed 24 of 37 passes for 195 yards but was not a factor with his running ability, managing just 13 net yards on 17 carries. The Tigers also did a good job on Jalen Hurd, limiting the Vols’ star running back to 40 yards on 11 carries.
Tennessee’s defense played well except for allowing two fourth-quarter touchdown passes by Maty Mauk. The first was a 73-yard catch/run by Jimmie Hunt that bumped the Tiger lead to 23-13. The second was a 13-yard reception by Bud Sasser that widened the gap to 29-13.
Evan Berry was spectacular on kickoff returns, hauling one 58 yards, and Matt Darr punted exceptionally well. Medley made two clutch field goals but Tennessee struggled mightily with kickoffs. One went out of bounds, setting up a Missouri TD drive, then the two onside-kick recoveries were nullified by penalties. Those kickoff mishaps proved critical.
Sometimes you have to just give the other team credit for playing a better game. I think that was the case on this night.
Special teams —A-
Steven Peake's thoughts
For the second straight season Tennessee has lost on senior day. Losing to Vanderbilt on senior night is strange enough but tonight seemed a little more odd.
Tonight, Tennessee faked a field goal for a touchdown, Patrick Ashford threw as many touchdown passes as Joshua Dobbs, the Vols converted a two-point conversion, recovered two onside-kicks that were both taken away, Missouri missed two extra-points and Matty Mauk nearly doubled his longest touchdown pass of the year with a 73-yard strike.
All of that amounted to a 29-21 Missouri win.
Josh, Danny and Randy have given their thoughts on the game overall and my thoughts don’t lineup fairly similar to theirs. So I would like to focus my take on the game on the first time I have ever been critical of Butch Jones’ decision making.
Like you will hear me say in the Insider Report,hindsight’s 20/20 and Butch Jones has coached far more collegiate football games than my 0. While I don’t understand the X’s and O’s the way he does, I have a fairly good understanding of how the play clock works in football.
Down by two scores, the Vols were going to have to do something special. That meant execute big plays and good time management. After Dobbs recovered his own fumble on first down the best thing to do, in my opinion, was spike the ball. It would have cost the Vols a down but would have saved a timeout plus gobs of time. Instead Tennessee watched the clock tick down way too long before burning their first timeout.
Tennessee scored out of the timeout so that helps it’s cause but it would have been nice to have it back as Missouri was able to run out the clock on fourth down. Tennessee only had one timeout during that last drive because the second was burned trying to overturn a call that had no chance of being overturned. The replay was played in the stadium almost instantly and someone had to have gotten a look before Jones challenged the play. If they got it right in real time, what were the chances they would get it wrong when looking at 6 different camera views in slow-motion?
I get that it may have felt like well, Tennessee might as well challenge it because the chances of getting a stop, driving for a touchdown in that quick of time and getting a two-point conversion seemed slim.
Personally, I’d love to see coaches subscribe to that philosophy, Go ahead and challenge a late-game go-ahead field goal that clearly went through the uprights because, why not?
Other than that, Tennessee was a play or two away from beating the best team in the SEC East. They have been a play or two away from winning several games now and under this coaching staff, we will soon be talking about how they made those plays.
Special teams —B+
Josh Woodward's thoughts
Sometimes when I think I have it figured out, games like this happen. Tennessee had a chance to win; the officials got the replay wrong on the on side kick which should have been Tennessee ball. Granted they were down eight, but the offense moved the ball with ease on that last possession.
Offensively it was worse than I thought, the Missouri defense line destroyed Tennessee up front. Butch said after the game that it was the best front seven he has seen an I agree. They really missed a big receiver like North, Pig Howard stepped up and made some nice catches, that Josh Malone tipped pass that Missouri intercepted was a back breaker. I don’t remember any throws to the tight end all game.
Defensively they missed A.J. Johnson, he would have made a huge difference up the middle in this game. Missouri was able to expose Tennessee down the field, the Vols still lack some speed at corner and Missouri took advantage. Curt Maggitt played lights out, maybe the best game I have ever seen him as a Vol. Barnett had a costly penalty that extended a Missouri drive, although a little ticky tacky call in my opinion.
Special Teams was lights out tonight, Matt Darr was the MVP of the game pinning Missouri deep in their own territory multiply times. The faked field goal call was a thing of beauty, couldn’t have been done any better. The on side kicks were done the right way. Evan Berry gives them a great spark at kick off return. He will house one before he is done at Tennessee. This might have been one of the best special team performances I have seen at Tennessee.