Rapid Reaction: Eric Gray, Tennessee's offensive line impose will as Vols bully Mizzou
Make it 8.
Behind a dominant offensive line performance, Tennessee literally pushed itself to a 35-12 victory over Missouri on Saturday. The Vols have won 8 consecutive games, matching Notre Dame for the longest active winning streak among Power 5 teams.
The No. 21 Volunteers already possessed one of the better offensive lines in the conference, but with the addition of Cade Mays following the long-awaited ruling on his eligibility, their offensive line looked like one of the best in the country Saturday.
Tennessee routinely carried the ball for over 5 yards a carry, led by the 1-2 punch of Ty Chandler and Eric Gray. Both running backs averaged nearly 5 yards a carry, and each found the end zone in the first half. Gray finished with 105 yards rushing. Chandler added 90. They combined for 3 of Tennessee’s 5 touchdowns.
Tennessee’s offensive line made its presence known early and often. In the first half the Vols had 149 yards rushing, 11 more than they did for the entire game in their opener. A fifth of all designed runs in the first half went for at least 10 yards.
It wasn’t just the big boys on the offensive side of the ball who were effective, as the Volunteers’ defense frequently sniffed out Mizzou’s attempts at zone reads and jet sweeps.
Nothing went the way of the Tigers until Eli Drinkwitz made the QB switch from Shawn Robinson to Connor Bazelak to begin the 2nd quarter.
Bazelak almost instantly provided a spark for the offense with a pair of quick completions that helped to open up the run game for a couple of drives that led to disappointing 3-point finishes, but continued drops by Missouri wide receivers and a bevy of penalties ultimately prevented the Tigers from gaining any true momentum.
Just when it looked like the Volunteers had squeezed the hopes out of Mizzou with a 16-play, 92-yard drive to push their lead to 28-6, Bazelak and the Tigers responded with a 75-yard drive of their own that included a pair of 4th-down conversions, punctuated with a Larry Rountree touchdown carry.
A quick 3-and-out on the next Tennessee drive had the Vols reeling, but a Bazelak pass intercepted by Theo Jackson ended the comeback and what had otherwise been an impressive day by the Mizzou gun-slinger.
Things now level up in the next 3 weeks for the Volunteers with a trip to Georgia on Saturday and a game against Alabama waiting on Oct. 24. Push the win streak to 11, and then the nation will be talking.