IT's Take: No East title for Vols but plenty of offense

For the second year in a row, Tennessee is just a mere feet away from an SEC East crown. Nonetheless, the Volunteers sent their fans home Saturday night having had plenty about which to cheer.

Danny Parker's take

Tennessee punted four times and scored touchdowns on nine series. That’s a solid ratio and one that figures to equal victories more times than not.

Then again, Missouri amassed its largest rushing total (420) versus an FBS team since 2003. Its grand total of 740 yards of total offense was a program record versus FBS foes and a record allowance by a Tennessee defense.

Butch Jones told y’all his Vols weren’t going to win the stat battle. He’s right. But, he also continues to point to the stat that matters most — wins. Tennessee got one more Saturday night, easing away late for a 63-37 victory.

It’s an extremely rare feat to see a quarterback both throw for 200 yards and rush for 200 yards. On Saturday, Joshua Dobbs was 10 yards away from accomplishing that. He accounted for five touchdowns for the second straight week — and wasn’t done there.

Four players caught two passes or more. Dobbs threw just seven incomplete passes (compared to 22 for Drew Lock) and was sacked just once even though three starting blockers were out.

“In Josh Dobbs’ world, there’s never a bad day,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.

“A young man like that only comes around so often.”

All that combined with a cruise-away victory equal the perfect sendoff for an unsung hero in the reclamation of Tennessee football.

Tennessee sophomore John Kelly continues to be a grinder with the rock in his hands and Vols fans consistently tell me he’s “fun to watch.” The Detroit native ran for 101 yards on just 18 carries and scored from 27 out as the Vols were stepping on the Tigers’ throats late. Dobbs and Kelly led a ground attack that averaged 8.6 yards on 45 attempts. That’s getting it done and pushing people around.

Injuries continue to mount. Chance Hall, Todd Kelly Jr. and Dylan Wiesman added to the MASH unit and didn’t dress. Defensive end LaTroy Lewis again injured an ankle and was unable to go for the final two quarters, which was tough to see for a fifth-year guy in his Neyland finale.

As for the rest of the Tennessee defense, well, they are who they are. It’s not as ugly of a thing to watch as the 2012 group because they’re short a number of key healthy bodies. But, Vols fans should have known and need to know that this is a Big 12 looking squad now. They’re not shutting anyone out or racking up TFLs at a breakneck pace.

In the last eight quarters combined, Jones’ defense has allowed 1,375 yards. That’s an incredible number considering where the expectations were coming in, however, those injuries and the fortitude those players provided have sucked the wind out of that side of the ball. We said defensive backs will lead statistical categories the rest of the way and that held true against Mizzou with safety Micah Abernathy’s 12 tackles and RaShaan Gaulden’s nine stops (seven solo).

Tigers runner Damarea Crockett needed just 15 carries to net 146 rushing yards and touchdown (22) in the first half.

“I didn’t particularly like our intensity in the first half, and that’s what I challenged our players with,” Jones said.

Crockett simply tacked on in the final two quarters, finishing with 225 on the ground with an average of 9.4 yards per clip.

Missouri got explosive plays from players beyond Crockett. Drew Lock completed 21 passes for 320 yards. Tennessee did sack Lock once and picked him off twice, including Jonathan Kongbo’s pick-six for the icing-on-the-cake score.

Cameron Sutton’s 17-yard punt return gave Tennessee fans a flashback and a reminder of what might have been with the special teams group that’s not only sorely missed his production there but the absence of Evan Berry from kickoff return is plainly obvious. Aaron Medley missed another long try, this time from 46, after Jones protected him much of the year by keeping the offense on the field when drives stalled around the 30-yard line. Trevor Daniel was his usual solid self, averaging 46.2 yards on four punts.

Grades

Offense: A

Defense: D

Special teams: D

Jesse Smithey’s take

The SEC East has never been as winnable than it has the last handful of years. And, yet, Tennessee whiffed on yet another chance to advance to Atlanta.

Sure, they took care of business Saturday against a paltry Missouri team with a 63-37 win. But the loss to South Carolina from Oct. 29 eventually came back to haunt the Vols. So when LSU lost Saturday to Florida – the game went final during the Vols’ first half against Missouri – because the Tigers couldn’t score late from the 1-yard line, everyone in Neyland Stadium knew that a rematch with Alabama was gone. 

The SEC East title was gone. 

The next step in Butch Jones' rebuild of Tennessee was gone.

A Tennessee team that had beaten both Florida and Georgia this season still did not win the East. That’s almost inconceivable.

Still, from this writer’s seat, Tennessee may want to consider it a blessing in disguise. Do you really want this Tennessee defense that isn't even a shell of its former self to see Alabama again? To get embarrassed on national TV by them again?

Players don’t think that way. The rest of us should. 

The result would be bad and could be quite the recruit repellent.

Look, the breaks didn’t go Tennessee’s way this season, health wise. Let the Vols beat Vandy. Finish 9-3 and go to a good bowl game and try to get to 10 wins.

Enjoy the last two games with Josh Dobbs as quarterback. His farewell to Neyland Stadium on Saturday night was spectacular, as he was seemingly the only Vol still fired up to play after news had spread about LSU.

He rushed for a career-high 190 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was a career-long 70 yards. He completed 15 of 22 passes for 223 yards and three scores.

Relish him. Ignore the defense.

Dobbs' defensive counterparts didn’t make such a great lasting impression in the final home game of the season.

Missouri entered the game having only scored 30 or more points three times this season – against Eastern Michigan, Delaware State and Middle Tennessee State. It added Tennessee to that laughable list.

One week after surrendering 635 yards (443 rushing) to Kentucky, the Vols’ defense let Missouri rack up 740 total yards – 420 by way of rush.

Those 740 yards were the most any opponent had recorded against Tennessee – ever. 

Tennessee's defense is unfixable at this point. Given the amount of injuries it has sustained, the defense is only capable of minimizing damage and hoping the offense outscores the opponent. That’ll be the game plan next week at Vanderbilt.

Expect an anemic Vandy offense to look like, well, Missouri did. And for Tennessee's fanbase, not having an SEC East title to play for will make that tougher to digest.

Grades

Offense: A

Defense:  F

Special Teams: C

Scott Hall's take

What a drop-the-mic performance by Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs. He might have saved his best Neyland Stadium effort for last. Dobbs is without a doubt the most dynamic quarterback in the SEC making plays with his feet and legs.

The Vols put themselves in a great shot for an appealing bowl game with a performance that more closely resembled a WAC contest than an SEC game.

Tennessee overcame the disappointment of Florida beating LSU — at least on the offensive side of the ball. The offense once again picked up the defense and is becoming an explosive unit to watch. Josh Malone and Jauan Jennings are making “WRU” proud. Today was a clinic put on by Mike Debord & Co.

Defensively the Vols laid an egg again in a game that appeared to be more of a two-hand touch contest than tackle football. The Bob Shoop-led defense allowed the opponent to take a 7-0 lead once again. The unit was again whipped up front and it appears at this point in the season the only way to achieve victory is to outscore the opponent in a shootout..

The special teams are severely missing Evan Berry. The kickoff return team was inept as the Vols started in poor field position most of the day. Aaron Medley missed a long field goal as well to add to the special teams woes.

With the hopes of playing in Atlanta over, there are two goals left to achieve: Making a prestigious bowl game and winning it. In order to be invited to a prestigious bowl the Vols need to win next at Vandy. It will be an interesting few weeks as the bowls work themselves out and seeing if the Vols can win next week.

Grades

Offense: A+

Defense: D-

Special teams: C-

Kelly remarks on running for 101

Kendrick lumps praise on Vols teammates


Inside Tennessee Top Stories