Missouri football: Tigers' stout defense falls victim to high-powered Tennessee offense
Missouri’s defense has been among the most underrated in the country all year, heading into Saturday’s matchup at Tennessee with the 13th-ranked unit in total defense that practically no one was talking about because of the way it had been overshadowed by the Tigers’ offensive struggles.
But while Missouri put 24 points on the scoreboard as quarterback Brady Cook completed 19-of-32 passes for 217 yards with 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, the defense struggled to find answers as the 5th-ranked Volunteers improved to 9-1, totaling 66 points in the 66-24 victory.
Tennessee star quarterback Hendon Hooker was 25-of-36 passing for 355 yards and 3 touchdowns, as he continues to shine as a very real candidate for the Heisman Trophy, with talented backup Joe Milton seeing some action as well with 3 completions for 105 yards and 1 passing TD.
While Mizzou (4-6, 2-5 SEC) gave up 460 yards through the air with both Bru McCoy and Jalin Hyatt crossing the century mark in receiving yards, the effort on the ground wasn’t much better as Tennessee had 264 rushing yards while piling up 724 yards of total offense.
The Tigers’ highly ranked defense had allowed an average of 4.82 yards per play and 303.7 yards per game. The unit didn’t exactly look imposing on Saturday, but it still held true to some of those general numbers as the Tigers gave up those 264 yards on the ground, allowing running back Dylan Sampson to come close to the 100-yard mark with 98 yards and 1 touchdown on 8 carries. He averaged 12.2 yards per carry.
If there’s anything to be said about this though, it’s that this probably says more about the Tennessee offense than it does the Missouri defense. The Vols have now had 7 games this season in which they have scored 40 points or more, and the only team to truly stifle them on offense has been Georgia in their only loss of the season the week before facing Missouri.
Between Hooker’s improvement as a passer and the star power of NFL-type talent embedded in the offense like Hyatt, this offense is simply built different and can give even the best of defenses issues — as has been shown this season.
And it was really in the 2nd half that the wheels totally fell off, when Tennessee scored 38 unanswered points in the 42-point victory. Mizzou was getting gashed by the run and couldn’t keep up with Hooker and Co. through the air, either, as things quickly got out of control.
“The wheels fell off,” Tigers head coach Eli Drinkwitz said. “Offensively, in the first half, we did a nice job of keeping pace and then we just weren’t able to keep pace right there.”
Some missed chances to make big plays on offense and some penalties played a role in the loss, too, in addition to going up against a team that was deemed by many as being the best in the nation only 2 weeks ago. But Drinkwitz thought his defense just didn’t look like the one that had taken the field for the majority of the season.
“We weren’t ourselves,” he said. “We missed some tackles. Didn’t cover the way we normally cover. So, we’ll have to go back and look at it.”
The Mizzou defense has held strong on most occasions this year, usually struggling only when left out on the field too long to compensate for offensive woes. The defense is also a big reason why 4 of Mizzou’s losses this season are by 1 score, including the 26-22 setback to top-ranked Georgia.
Missouri will look to bounce back as it heads through the final stretch of the season with a tune-up game on the horizon against New Mexico State followed by Arkansas to finish things off before getting to work in the offseason to fix a team that still seems to be so close yet so far away.
The Tigers have tweaks to make before they can be consistently competitive in the SEC.