COLUMBIA, Mo. — Tennessee will want to forget its first trip to cold, blustery Missouri.
The Volunteers made enough mistakes to fill two games, and Missouri showed no after-effect of last week’s heartbreaking double-overtime loss to South Carolina as the Tigers routed their visitors 31-3 on Saturday night in front of 65,869 at Memorial Stadium/Faurot Field.
“We knew we didn’t give our best,” Vols safety Brian Randolph said after Missouri ran up 502 yards of offense. “We didn’t play Tennessee football. We were down on ourselves, but we’re thankful we’ve got another opportunity to come out next week against another good team and show them what we’re really made of.”
The 10th-ranked Tigers remained one game ahead of South Carolina and Georgia in the loss column in the SEC East race, and with three games remaining, Missouri is in control of its own destiny to reach the SEC championship game in the program’s second season in the league.
Tennessee, under first-year coach Butch Jones, needs to win two of its last three to reach six wins and bowl eligibility.
“I think it’s pretty obvious it’s a line of scrimmage, and when you give up over 300 yards rushing the ball and your team has less than a hundred, I think that pretty much tells the story,” Jones said, the disappointment evident in his voice and demeanor. “They dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
“Penalties, pre-snap penalties and tackling, two blown assignments in the back end — doesn’t give you a chance. When you go on the road, it’s all about creating your momentum and your own momentum. We weren’t able to do that.”
Missouri’s 339 rushing yards were the most by the Tigers in a conference game since 2003, when they gashed old Big 12 foe Texas Tech for 469 yards.
The SEC’s leader in sacks and turnovers, Missouri added two sacks and three turnovers against Josh Dobbs, the Vols freshman quarterback who made his first start after debuting at Alabama last week.
Four first-half drives inside Missouri’s 40-yard line yielded just three points, and that was a 51-yard field goal by Michael Palardy. One series ended on fourth down, Markus Golden’s sack of Dobbs pushed the Vols out of range for a long field goal and Dobbs fumbled after trying to scramble for a first down late in the half.
Tennessee entered the game leading the SEC in fewest penalties and fewest penalty yards per game, but the Vols were flagged nine times for 65 yards.
“Our goal’s in place of a bowl game, and the only thing you can do is go back and get better,” he said. “As we continue to progress, it’s unacceptable. … That’s on me with the penalties, and we’ll get that corrected, but I expect more.”
What most disappointed Jones was Missouri’s dominance at the line of scrimmage.
“It’s very disappointing,” said right tackle Ja’Wuan James, one of four senior starters up front. “At times as an offensive line, you only can control what you can control, but we couldn’t control this game. We didn’t a good job at all. We’re going to go watch the film, and we’re going to be disappointed, because we’re going to feel like we could’ve did a lot better.”
Dobbs overthrew Jason Croom deep for one of his interceptions, but the other came when Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy hit him from behind as he threw.
Missouri turned that pick into a touchdown in a dominant second quarter. The Tigers rolled up 236 yards of offense in the second quarter and took a 24-3 lead at halftime. Missouri’s defense did the rest in allowing the fewest points to a conference opponent since shutting out Iowa State in 2010.
Maty Mauk, the Tigers’ redshirt freshman making his third start in relief of the injured James Franklin, led Missouri’s big game on the ground with 114 yards on 13 carries. He cracked the 100-yard barrier on his 11th carry in the third quarter. Continuing the Vols’ struggles with running quarterbacks, Mauk had runs of 20, 19, 28 and 19.
The Tigers averaged a whopping 6.3 yards per carry.
“The whole team was disappointed,” linebacker Dontavis Sapp said. “Losing’s not an option at Tennessee. Coach Jones is getting that back. It’s very frustrating.”
Jones was perhaps the most frustrated by his team’s stumble.
“I’m disappointed, but I’m not discouraged,” he said. “We have to keep building it. Nobody said it was going to be easy, and we have to keep building it and keep working each and every day. I said when the season started we had to stay focused on the task at hand and it’s going to be a process.
“I’m as competitive as much or more than anyone, and our staff is the same way and our players … but again it’s development, and the only thing you can do is keep working. I didn’t think we played our best. Not even close.”
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...