I don’t recall ever seeing a really good, enjoyable football defeat. All losses are bad. Some are worse. The one at Missouri Saturday was awful.
I don’t know if it was the all-time terrible road performance …
That 63-38 ambush last November at South Carolina was devastating. Stakes were high. The defense was trampled. It seemed some Volunteers didn’t want to be there.
There was a 1995 collapse in The Swamp. The Vols actually had the lead but Florida scored 48 consecutive points.
I was in Jackson for the 1969 Archie Who? Game, 38-0 by Ole Miss over a previously undefeated Tennessee team. The game looked worse than the score. The Archie in question was Archie Manning. He was pretty good.
The Vols’ first SEC trip to Missouri, 2013, was a cold, grim experience, 31-3. This trip was warmer.
These Tigers were hot. They beat up and burned both Tennessee lines. They stuffed the highly regarded Volunteer running attack. Missouri runner-receiver Cody Schrader will probably be player of the year. He became the first in SEC history to accumulate at least 200 rushing and 100 receiving yards in the same game. He’s tough.
Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz may still be celebrating 36-7. He took the game very personally. He said he and his team left Knoxville last November with a bad taste in their mouths, something about 66 points and how great Josh Heupel’s offense is.
“We had some unfinished business from last year. And we took care of business … great win … Our defense kicked their ass.”
I repeat something I told you last week.
“Now comes the football season. How Tennessee 2023 will be remembered hangs on the trip to Missouri. If that is a success, one heck of an opportunity will follow. Georgia comes to town on Nov. 18.”
Most of the meaning is gone from the Bulldogs’ invasion. Heupel will try to pump life back into his team but what-might-have-been now projects to be 8-4. That’s an OK season if you don’t mind occasional disappointments – and the mayonnaise bowl.
Football teams eventually tell you who they really are, what is their makeup. From August on, the Tennessee pass attack has been limited. The pass defense has never been better than poor. Penalties have long been a problem. Coaching adjustments have been suspect. Both sides of the running game have been remarkable, offense and defense.
Four-sixths of that repeated itself on Saturday past. There was one great pass play, a spectacular sliding catch by Dont’e Thornton, 46 yards, the Tennessee touchdown, a 7-3 lead for a few minutes.
The pass defense again wandered in the wilderness. Mizzou quarterback Brady Cook caused some of the confusion. He was successful escaping pressure. Receivers ran open. Schrader broke tackles and racked up yardage.
What a game he had. It was ESPN highlight stuff – 35 carries without getting tired, 205 yards gained, one TD scored. He beat linebackers and caught five passes for 116 yards. Alas, his total offense didn’t quite match Tennessee’s total.
Good story: 4.0 academic average in high school, four years at Division II Truman State, walk-on transfer to the Tigers to see if he could play in the big league. He can.
The Vols were penalized nine times for 95 yards. That’s a little above average. There was a bit of home-field advantage but I didn’t think the flagmen were grossly unfair.
If Tennessee coaches did anything to neutralize Missouri surprises, it didn’t show.
All of the run game was a shocking failure. Jaylen Wright produced 22 yards, Dylan Sampson 20 and Jabari Small five. Schrader overwhelmed the run defense.
Heupel saw what I saw, “a stark difference” between Tigers and Vols at the line of scrimmage.
I didn’t think Joe Milton lost the game. He completed 22 of 34 for 267 and the one TD. He led in rushing with 36. He was sacked once. He gave up a pick six. He lost a painful fumble when Sampson, too close on a fake handoff, bumped Joe’s arm as he tried to throw.
The game did have a pivot point. Late in the first half, Tennessee was driving for what could have been a go-ahead touchdown. It reached the Missouri 23 with 20 seconds remaining. Wright fumbled.
Instead of running out the clock, Schrader broke for 35 yards and the Tigers hurried on down the field and kicked a field goal. That was a big swing in emotions.
Tennessee got the ball to start the second half and botched the first play. Cooper Mays found the lost pitchout. Jackson Ross also did something right. He punted. Missouri drove 80 yards to make it 19-7. For all practical purposes, that was the end.
It wasn’t. The Tigers piled on more points. They even overcame a terrific hustle play. Dee Williams outran a Ross punt and downed the ball at the Missouri 1. On third and 10, Cook circled the scrum and scampered 24 yards.
Anybody consider contain responsibility? Sorry about that.
There was a late moment of deeper humiliation. With a few seconds to go, Heupel, for no good reason I can think of, sent in the field-goal unit. Charles Campbell managed to miss the kick.
Milton had an interesting post-game remark, that he sure is glad the Vols have one more game at Neyland Stadium, that they will do their best to do their best.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions by readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org