A week after a dominating win against Kentucky, Tennessee demonstrated just how far they have to go to get back to prominence against the Missouri Tigers. Missouri, with former Vols coach Derek Dooley as the offensive coordinator, crushed Tennessee 50-17 on Senior Day in Knoxville. The lose halts Tennessee’s momentum from the Kentucky win and makes next week’s Vanderbilt game a must-win for bowl eligibility.
On a day when seniors from the last four and five years of turmoil were celebrated, it didn’t seem as though anyone was into the scene. The offense was out of rhythm, the defense out of gas, the coaches were out of answers, and the sparse crowd of 88,000 was out of energy.
Tennessee Vols Game Grades Missouri Edition
Tennessee’s offense, much like the Florida and Charlotte games, started off completely out-of-synch. Even so, the Vols found themselves with the lead early in the second quarter. Even after a devastating late first half and third quarter Missouri surge, the Vols had a chance after a Tigers turnover to claw back half way through the third quarter. They were completely unable muster anything.
Offensive Stat of the Game: 25 plays of zero or less yards.
Tennessee’s starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano took a hit to the head in the first series and was clearly affected through the next two series. Tennessee’s offense looked awful in those three series. Guarantano was sent to the locker room and senior transfer Keller Chryst came in to lead three scoring drives in the next four possessions. But Chryst’s magic ran out in the third quarter. Chryst finished 7-for-20 for 173 yards and two costly interceptions. Chryst’s liabilities were evident in the red zone early in the second quarter.
Running Backs: D
The Vols managed 82 yards on the ground Saturday against a defense averaging 134 yards per game. That includes 36 on the final three plays of the game. Ty Chandler was decent; however, he wasn’t incorporated into the short passing game nor was he able to break any big runs. Carlin Fils-aime had a crushing fumble that resulted in a Missouri touchdown. Tim Jordan was the only other running back to get a carry and ended the game with 18 yards on six carries. The backs also played poorly in pass protection.
Marquez Callaway was easily the best offensive player on the field for Tennessee Saturday. Callaway had two receptions for 98 yards and is clearly the big play option for the Vols offense. Jauan Jennings did tack on another 41 yards reception, but with Guarantano and Chryst taking hit after hit in the backfield, it was difficult for the receivers to get anything going.
Offensive Line: F
Regression to the highest degree. After their best performance of the season, the offensive line was absolutely man-handled on Saturday. Guarantano and Chryst both took a beating in pass protection. And the running backs rarely had any daylight in the running lanes. The only positive? No penalties on the offensive line.
Drew Lock carved up the Vols defense to the tune of 50 points off of 257 yards passing and another 227 yards rushing. The Vols found success against Kentucky by making the Wildcats one-dimensional on offense. Not so this week, as the Tigers moved the ball at will on the ground and through the air. Lock essentially put his NFL Draft tape together against Jeremy Pruitt’s defense on Saturday. Incredibly, he had three big passes dropped, two of which were definitely touchdowns. As bad as Saturday was, it could’ve been worse.
Defensive Stat of the Game: 10 different Missouri receivers on 21 completions.
Defensive Line: D
It was too surprising that Missouri owned the line of scrimmage against the Tennessee offensive line, but the domination of the line of scrimmage on this side of the ball was unexpected. The defensive front could’t get any pressure on Lock. And Lock took advantage of the time in the pocket to carve up the secondary. It was a disappointing final game for seniors Shy Tuttle, Kyle Phillips, and Alexis Johnson.
The linebackers were caught in no-man’s land all afternoon. Daniel Bituli had several nice hits. But the inside linebackers had trouble defending the run and the pass and the outside linebackers couldn’t get to Lock on the pass rush and were exposed in run defense by Lock read-option keeps three times. There were some scheme issues, but there was plenty of execution concerns as well.
Defensive Backs: F
The secondary couldn’t cover, and when they did, they refused to turn around. Twice, once with Nigel Warrior in the end zone and once with Alontae Taylor did in Tennessee territory, interceptions were possible if proper technique was utilized. Warrior’s was extra egregious because it resulted in a pass interference call. The secondary put Pruitt in a difficult situation because they couldn’t cover in man-to-man coverage, thus preventing the Vols from bringing pressure against Lock and company.
Their tackling was horrendous as well. Broken tackles resulting in at least three Tigers first downs.
Special Teams: C
A blocked extra point was the only highlight on special teams on the day. Tennessee had an opportunity to recover an on-side kick, but slid right over the live ball. Baylen Buchanan had two returns that were close to breaking, but couldn’t get past the last coverage man. In a game with a powerful offense, special teams are critical to changing the momentum of the game. The Vols got nothing from this unit today.
The defense couldn’t figure out how to cover Missouri receivers when they brought pressure up front. Nor were they able to generate pressure in zone-coverage schemes. Jeremy Pruitt’s defensive scheme had no answer for Derek Dooley’s offensive game plan. That gives Vols fans insufferable heartburn.
Offensive coordinator Tyson Helton couldn’t get the offense in rhythm. Curiously, there seemed to be no attempt to get the running backs or Dominick Wood-Anderson involved in the passing game. Certainly the tribulations of the offensive line hampered his call sheet, but it’s fair to question the strategy after such a sluggish day.
One regular season game left. Next week’s trip to West End will determine this season’s narrative. A win against Vanderbilt puts Tennessee at 6-6, bowl eligible, and with three conference wins. That’s progress from last season.
A loss to Vanderbilt gives the Commodores a three game win streak and five wins in the last seven games against the Vols. That’s incomprehensible to Volunteer fans over the age of 12. It’ll finish the Vols season before the month of December. And it’ll demonstrate little, if any, development from the start of the season.
Will Pruitt’s first season be a passing grade, or will Tennessee be turned back and have to repeat another stressful, uncertain 2019 campaign. It’s all riding on the final exam next Saturday in Nashville.
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