Tennessee Game Grades Missouri Edition
This was one of the most unfulfilling wins in recent Tennessee memory. The Vols were eliminated from the SEC East championship race early in game as a result of Florida‘s win against LSU. And as much as the offensive production is impressive, Tennessee was again gashed on the ground.
Even in the victory, Tennessee fans are left to confront several evident truths. First, this season will end as a disappointment. Every expectation was an SEC East Championship. Second, this defense — for several reasons — is not good right now. That’s an evaluative statement, not a judgment statement. Injuries have impacted the unit, for sure. But the fact of the matter is the defense is a liability if Tennessee plays a good team during bowl season.
Tennessee Game Grades Missouri Edition
Ever since the South Carolina debacle, Tennessee’s offense has been rolling, scoring 55, 49, and 63 points. Granted, none of those defenses were very good. Missouri‘s defense has yielded 400 total yards of offense against every Power-5 opponent it has faced this season. The Tigers have given up an average of 32.17 points per game to their SEC opponents as well. As bad as Missouri is, this was the most points they’ve given to any opponent this season by almost two full touchdowns.
Offensive Stat of the Game: Joshua Dobbs: 19.0 average yards per rush
Joshua Dobbs followed up his career day against Kentucky with another prototypical Dobbs performance. The senior quarterback has certainly improved his downfield passing this season, but his true value is in his running ability. Dobbs’ stats are gaudy: 15-of-22 (68%) for 223 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions passing and 190 yards rushing on ten carries with an additional two touchdowns. That’s a combined five touchdowns and 413 yards. Impressive by any standard. This includes a 70-yard run and two long passing touchdowns, one of 57-yards and one 49-yards. There will be many laudatory comments directed towards Joshua Dobbs as he plays his final two games for Tennessee, and this game highlights why Dobbs has been so critical to this team for the past two seasons. It was a fitting final home game for the universally-respected Dobbs.
What a [senior] night for @josh_dobbs1 ?
– 223 yards passing, 3 TDs
– 190 yards rushing, 2 TDs pic.twitter.com/1EMU9sJSX0
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) November 20, 2016
Running Backs: A
John Kelly and Alvin Kamara continued to prove that they are a dynamic tandem. Kelly ran for 101 yards and one touchdown and Kamara tacked on 55 more with two touchdowns. Kamara made a fantastic catch on critical third down as well. It’s pretty hard for the running backs to have this type of performance and be overshadowed by the quarterback, but that’s the case today. Most importantly, the running backs avoided costly turnovers.
Another strong game from a unit that is finally solidifying late in the season. Dobbs’ 15 completions were spread to seven different receivers. Josh Malone and Jauan Jennings were solid with seven receptions for 150 yards between them. Each had long touchdowns, and Jennings had two. Jennings’ continues to show his toughness — an element of his game that sets a tone on the offensive side of the ball. The unit only had one drop this evening — attributed to Josh Smith.
Offensive Line: A
Another combination starting on the offensive line, but this time the unit played well. With Drew Richmond at left tackle and Venzell Boulware at right guard, the offensive line set the tone for Tennessee’s 386 yards rushing. Missouri was able to get some pressure on Dobbs and makes two plays in the backfield, but Tennessee’s athleticism covered up most of the few errors by the offensive line. Like the receivers, a unit that seems to be getting better as the season goes along.
Last week was bad, and this week was even worse. Missouri had a staggering 110 plays accounting for 743 total yards and 42 first downs. Only Missouri’s four turnovers allowed this game to get out of control late. As stated earlier, the fact of the matter is that this Tennessee defense is struggling right now. The absence of several key players — Shy Tuttle, Kahlil McKenzie, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin — due to injury is certainly part of it. But Tennessee has to play with the squad they field and they have to find a way to win. The defense has come dangerously close in the last two weeks to squandering wins. Missouri’s four turnovers this week caused this game to be more lopsided than it really was. Continued performance like this will ensure a close Vanderbilt game and cause concern against a top-level opponent in a presumed top-tier bowl.
Defensive Stat of the Game: Toss Up: 110 total plays — or — 42 first downs.
Defensive Line: F
We’ll start with the highlight. Derek Barnett had his 31st career sack, pulling him to within one sack of tying Reggie White for the all-time program record. Other than that, it was another disappointing effort for the offensive line. Missouri tallied 420 yards one week after Kentucky put up 443. That’s the bad news. The one silver lining is that the defensive line actually got better later in the game. Kyle Phillips made two good tackles in the second half to go along with Jonathan Kongbo‘s pick-6. Kongbo had his first meaningful effort of the season in the second half. After giving up touchdowns on long drives for four of the first eight drives, the Vols held Missouri without a touchdown on five of the last six drives of the game.
Easily the poorest performance from any unit from the game. Elliot Berry continues to struggle to get in the right position and fill the running lanes. Berry has tremendous athleticism — he’s a Berry after all — but seems to be struggling filling the strong side linebacker role. Colton Jumper struggled to get the defense in the right set when Missouri went high tempo. And both Berry and Jumper, along with Kenny Bynum, had way too missed tackles against Missouri’s running backs.
Defensive Backs: C-
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock had a good day through the air against Tennessee’s secondary. Lock was 21-for-43 (48.8%) passing with 323 yards. At least three of the incompletions were drops. Lock had two touchdowns through the air, although he did have two interceptions as well — both in the second half. The defensive backs were beaten on the back side on multiple occasions. They were taxed in run support however, and saved several runs from becoming big plays.
Special Teams: B
It was an uneventful game in the special teams department. No significant action in either return or coverage games. Aaron Medley did convert a 47-yard field goal. And with Missouri’s kicking woes, that added more pressure to an already out-matched Missouri team. Marquill Osborne had the one mistake of the evening, slipping and downing a kickoff return at the two-yard line. Neither return was able to provide a spark.
The offense seems to be clicking, but there remain questions on defense. Is it scheme? Why so many tackles? The elephant in the room is injuries, but the fact is the Vols defense has given up over 850 yards of rushing the past two weeks.
For his part, Butch Jones looks like a coach that trying to keep the program together. The confidence and exultation from the post-Florida and post-Georgia wins are gone. In their place is a coach that looks like he’s not having as much fun. A coach that looks tired and in the middle of a long season’s grind. With as far as this program has come, there is work still to do, and he knows it.
Next Week: Vanderbilt. It’ll be another test of the defensive front seven against Vandy. Derek Mason‘s squad will watch the Kentucky and Missouri tapes and will feed Ralph Webb in the middle all game long. Vanderbilt’s offensive line is probably slightly better than both Kentucky and Missouri. Kyle Shurmur, for the exception of his game against Auburn, isn’t even in the same category as Drew Lock, however.
The air seems to be out of the Tennessee program now. The hype train — bound for Atlanta — derailed in Columbia and couldn’t quite get back on track. While there are a lot of questions — players leaving mid-season, players declaring for the draft, why so many injuries, and assistant coaches on the hot seat — the Vols will likely still be playing for a top-tier bowl next week. Possibly even a Sugar Bowl invite if voters punish Florida for a likely SEC Championship Game loss.
It’s been a long time since a 26-point win felt this dreary.