KNOXVILLE — Tennessee is just fine.
Any concerns about lingering effects from last weekend’s loss at Georgia were absolutely obliterated Saturday afternoon inside Neyland Stadium, when the No. 5 Volunteers set a program record with 724 yards of total offense in keelhauling Missouri 66-24 before a sixth consecutive home sellout audience of 101,915.
Sixth-year senior quarterback Hendon Hooker threw for 355 yards and three touchdowns in his Neyland finale, with receivers Jalin Hyatt and Bru McCoy combining on 16 catches for 257 yards and Hyatt scoring for the 15th time this season.
“That was the step that we had to take,” Hyatt said after his 146-yard showing increased his season total to 1,116. “Coming off that tough loss to Georgia and with everybody coming in disappointed on Monday, we knew had to flip the switch somehow, and we wanted to start with this game.”
Tennessee’s previous mark of 718 total yards occurred during a 55-48 outlasting of Troy in 2012, and the 66 points tallied by the Vols were their most against a Southeastern Conference foe. They improved to 9-1 overall and to 5-1 in league play after completing a 7-0 home schedule, while Missouri fell to 4-6 and to 2-5 within the SEC.
After the final points were scored with 36 seconds remaining on a Dylan Sampson 1-yard run, Tennessee coach Josh Heupel was asked whether his Vols had made a statement victory to those watching around the country, most notably the College Football Playoff selection committee.
“The statement for us is that we’re a good football team playing good football,” Heupel said. “What the scoreboard ultimately ends up being and what people down the line may judge us for are out of our control. Our best football is still out in front of us, and I am proud of the fight and our ability to reset in that second half.”
Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz was asked about Tennessee’s late score that capped the 38-0 closing run.
“He coaches his team. I coach our team,” Drinkwitz said. “I’ve got no issues with their team and what they do.”
Drinkwitz, incidentally, has lost both games since the announcement he is receiving a contract extension through 2027 and a pay bump from $4 million to $6 million that will take effect next season. His Tigers had shown dramatic improvement defensively from a year ago, going from 106th nationally to 13th while yielding 304.1 yards per game.
Tennessee hung 683 yards on Mizzou in last season’s 62-24 trampling in Columbia.
“You look at them defensively and the things they’ve done throughout the course of the season — that’s a really good defense,” Heupel said. “It’s one of the top ones in the conference, and there were some things they did that hurt us. On the offensive side of the football, their quarterback runs in the first half changed the dynamic of the game.
“We weren’t as clean as we could be in that first half, but our guys didn’t blink and came back and played, and I’m proud of that.”
Unlike last year’s slaughter at Mizzou, when Tennessee built a 45-10 halftime lead, the Vols held a 28-17 advantage at intermission Saturday that was trimmed to 28-24 on Brady Cook’s 38-yard touchdown pass to Dominic Lovett at the 8:55 mark of the third quarter.
The Vols needed two plays to answer, scoring on a 68-yard touchdown strike from Hooker to Hyatt in which Hyatt lined up behind the left guard before sneaking into the left flat uncovered.
“We were trying to get them confused with the zone they went in,” Hyatt said. “I had seen the corner follow Bru, so it was an easy pitch and catch for us, but I was hiding. We had it as something else we could throw out there as far as tendencies that we hadn’t shown them, and it worked out perfectly.
“I’ve never been asked to hide behind a left guard. It was definitely something different.”
Heupel described the play as “something that’s been in my back pocket for a while,” while Hooker recalled the moment with a smile as well.
“It’s successful every time in practice,” Hooker said, “but I heard somebody on the sideline say, ‘Too easy,’ as I was about to throw it. That was pretty funny to me.”
On its three possessions that followed Missouri’s final points, Tennessee reeled off 13 plays for 211 yards and three touchdowns to take a 49-24 lead into the fourth quarter.
Heupel was asked about the sideline demeanor in a 28-24 game, and he responded that all was calm.
“These guys have been resilient,” Heupel said. “We didn’t just land at this spot. They’ve earned it, and their character and who they are has been revealed every day along the way.”
Tennessee, which staged its earliest home finale since 1927, will conclude its regular season the next two weeks at South Carolina and at Vanderbilt.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com.
Updated with more information at 8 p.m. on Nov. 12, 2022.