Amazing, wow and holy cow – plus three exclamation points.
Sixty-two against an SEC foe might be almost enough to stir up some excitement. Tennessee over Missouri in a rout was a shocker. The Tigers aren’t very good but they were favored. Experts, prominent locals and several others, picked the home team to win a close game.
The last time it was close was at the coin toss.
The Vols arrived with purpose. They ran 14 plays in the first quarter, used up three minutes and 24 seconds of possession time and scored four touchdowns.
Game over. Several in the scattered audience went for a walk. Vol fans whooped it up and sang their favorite song, almost on key.
Tennessee scored some more touchdowns, mostly for fun, finished with 35 first downs, 683 yards of total offense and never punted. The 38-point winning margin was its largest in an SEC game since the same edge over Ole Miss in 2010.
Efficient? These Vols scored on 10 of 11 possessions. The dismal failure ended one step short. Missouri claimed the goal-line stand as evidence that it was trying.
Josh Heupel was pleased but poised, no jumping up and down.
“This is the tip of the iceberg. We’re just scratching the surface of what we are capable of.”
South Carolina, coming to Neyland Stadium on Saturday noon, might or might not provide confirmation of continuing development. The four foes after that could turn into a four-game losing streak.
Numbers, numbers, so many other numbers: The Tennessee running attack was pretty good, 452 yards, 7.8 per carry. Tiyon Evans gained 157 and scored three touchdowns. He broke a 92-yarder, third longest in school history.
Jabari Small ran three times for 38 but his bum shoulder barked again and he didn’t play after the first quarter. Len’Neth Whitehead and Jaylen Wright seized opportunities. Marcus Pierce, transfer up from Maryville College, had a 27-yard TD run.
Hendon Hooker played a very fine game, 15 of 19 passes for 225 and touchdowns to JaVonta Payton, Velus Jones and Cedric Tillman. Hooker ran 15 times for 82 yards and another touchdown. He praised the offensive line.
“It all starts up front … guys up front had a great day… hats off to them … they were really explosive off the ball.”
When Hooker got to “incredible,” that was it for me.
The Tennessee defense was OK, good enough. Heupel thought it played with “suffocating energy.”
I didn’t. It limited Missouri to 74 yards on the ground. Jeremy Banks and Jaylen McCollough intercepted passes but Connor Bazelak completed 27 of 44 for 322. There were again wide openings in the middle.
The best yardstick was what happened to Tyler Badie, one of the top backs in the SEC, a total offense leader. He worked very hard for not much – 41 rushing yards on 21 tries. He caught passes for 27 yards.
Highlight for the losers was Kris Abrams-Draine’s 100-yard kickoff return. That was less than an earthquake. Rutgers did it in 2002. This one created more homework for Tennessee special teams. Assistant coach Mike Ekeler, who wants his people to keep their chili hot, was not happy. There was something about staying in lanes.
Alas and alas, after all that information, we can’t be sure what a 62-24 SEC victory means. It’s too early to tell whether Missouri’s defense was that bad or Tennessee’s offense is suddenly that good. That the Vols trimmed infractions to two made a difference.
First conference victory for Heupel?
“Nothing personal for me in this, other than I wanted our players to get a result that showed the type of work they’re putting in.”
The coach said the scheme and all that, yeah, it’s about coaching, but the victory is about players.
“This is tough game played by tough men. You’ve got to be prepared and ready to go.”
Heupel has a hint of compassion and a few old friends at Missouri. It appeared he did not try to score 90. He actually slowed the fourth-quarter pace and ran some clock. Joe Milton replaced Hooker at an appropriate time. Almost everybody played. Well, punter Paxton Brooks, No. 3 QB Harrison Bailey and the walking wounded didn’t.
Beware, the lack of depth and key injuries are a budding problem. The Tigers missed seeing center Cooper Mays, linebacker Juwan Mitchell and safety Trevon Flowers. Small, defensive lineman Elijah Simmons and perhaps others joined the ailing.
Heupel is tuned in.
“We’ve got to continue to push and our young guys have to grow, because they’re going to have to play real, meaningful snaps.
“There is a whole lot more for us in our growth.”
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org.