The Vols took the field in Columbia, Mo. on Saturday night looking for its sixth win on the season and bowl eligibility, under the guidance of returning starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano.

Tennessee came into the game as a three-point underdog to Missouri, who had been on a four game losing streak and trying to fix their offensive struggles. As JG took the first series for Tennessee, the offense fell short of putting anything together, leading to an early punt. But, after giving up a few decent yardage plays to the Tigers, the Vols held Missouri on 3rd down. Missouri settled for a 30-yard field goal to take the 3-0 lead.

David Ubben

After a 58-yard drive in which the Tennessee receivers dropped a few passes that were catchable, the Vols lined up for a 34-yard FG, which was blocked by the Tigers. Luckily for Tennessee, Missouri couldn’t capitalize off a fake punt and got the ball back, looking for a spark.

Jauan Jennings caught a short slant and turned it into a 51-yard gain, as the 1st quarter came to an end. The Vols came out in the 2nd quarter looking to make good on the big gain, with JG targeting Josh Palmer to setup Tennessee just outside the red zone. Tennessee wanted to take full advantage of the WR matchups, which is exactly what Marquez Callaway did inside the 10-yard line.

Jennings was brought in to run the wildcat formation, but was stuffed. Enter Quavaris Crouch, who ran straight up the gut for the Tennessee touchdown. The Vols took a 7-3 lead off the 9-play, 86-yard drive.

In a blunder of a play, Bryce Thompson got lost on a 33-yard pass to Jalen Knox that setup Missouri inside the Vols 30-yard line. The Tigers capitalized a few plays later with a misdirection pass to Tyler Badie for the seven-yard touchdown. The Vols were bringing multiple looks on the series, but couldn’t get to Kelly Bryant on time, which he made Tennessee pay for.

During the 2nd quarter, the Vols had themselves setup to get off the field on certain downs, a few costly mistakes prolonged the Missouri drive. It was the first Missouri touchdown in 34 previous attempts, a stat that is still mind-blowing, especially with the talent in that group.

Tennessee was not doing themselves in favors on the next drive, as multiple penalties were hurting them on big plays. The Vols were trying to establish some kind of run game, After Brian Maurer came into the game for one play, Guarantano re-entered and hit Jennings for a big 20-yard catch over the middle to extend the drive. After a few run plays, JG connected with Jennings for a gritty run after catch for a touchdown. Tennessee took the 14-10 lead with 1:32 remaining in the first half.

Tennessee, only using a four-man rush at times, continued to put Bryant into awkward positions. The big play came on 3rd down, with a host of Volunteers forcing an intentional grounding with 51 seconds remaining in the half.. After the Missouri punt, the Vols took over at the 38-yard line, looking for an opportunity at points. Tennessee went on a 66-yard drive, which setup Brent Cimaglia for a 27-yard FG. Some very big plays from the Tennessee receivers led to the points, especially this one from Josh Palmer.

 

Tennessee went into halftime leading 14-10. The Vols defense held Missouri to 164 yards and one touchdown, which if you’re a Vols fan, you’ve got to be happy with. Guarantano was 13-22 for 243 yards and one TD. Tennessee only rushed for 53 yards and that’s including 19 yards from their QB. Either way, Tennessee was up a touchdown on the road.

The second half opened up with Missouri receiving the ball. After a great defensive stand, in which the Vols didn’t blitz until 3rd down, Missouri was forced to punt.

Tennessee was in position to strike again, but Guarantano overthrew Jennings on consecutive plays at the tail end of the drive. The Vols were forced to try a FG, but hit was blocked for the second time. This gave Missouri great field position, which they took full advantage of.

On the eighth play of the Missouri drive, Bryant connected with former quarterback Micah Wilson on a backwards pass, who then connected with Badie for a 15-yard touchdown, and just like that, the game was tied 17-17.

Tennessee receivers were giving the Missouri cornerbacks problems on most of the drives, which led to numerous pass interference flags on the Tigers. The Vols needed to exploit the secondary down field, which is exactly what they were trying to setup most of the night.

As the next series began, Tennessee continued their plan of trying to run the football, no matter if they were gaining yards or not. Tim Jordan and Ty Chandler were having a bit of success, that led to open lanes across the middle on the seam routes. Unfortunately for the offense a big pass to Dominick Wood-Anderson came up one yard short of a first down, and Tennessee decided to punt of 4th & 1 on the Tigers 44-yard line. Hard to imagine Crouch couldn’t pickup one yard, but I don’t make $5 Million/yr. to make those decisions.

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The defense of Tennessee forced Missouri into a 3rd & 20 on the next possession, thanks in part to a 15-yard facemask penalty on the Tigers. Tennessee took advantage, with Daniel Bituli getting pressure on Bryant and the Vols’ defensive line plugging the gaps on multiple plays. Missouri was forced to punt, giving Tennessee another opportunity for a scoring drive.

Penalty flags in the secondary were thrown like beads on Bourbon Street Saturday night. Missouri had four DPI’s through three quarters, though most looked right.

Guarantano continued to stick in the pocket, especially after taking some pretty big hits. Tennessee went on a very big drive of eight plays and 77 yards, which was capped off with a 17-yard catch by Callaway, that gave the Vols a 24-17 lead heading into the 4th quarter. This was a recurring theme through three quarters, as Tennessee continued to pick on the Missouri secondary.

It was 15 minutes that separated Tennessee from six wins and a bowl berth.

As Missouri took over, it was Bituli who took charge. Bituli already had nine tackles to this point, but it was the 3rd down sack that forced the Tigers off the field. One thing was for sure, the Vols defense was starting to pin their ears back and attack Bryant from multiple angles. It came at a time in which Tennessee was starting to pull away with the momentum.

Unfortunately for Tennessee, nothing ever comes easy. On the ensuing drive, Jordan fumbled the football, giving Missouri great field position and the opportunity to tie things up. Shawn Shamburger didn’t help either, picking up a 15-yard late hit penalty, right in front of Jeremy Pruitt. Like I said, this team doesn’t make it easy on themselves.

After bringing a three-man rush on third down, with nine minutes remaining, Tennessee forced Missouri to kick a field goal. The Tigers cut the Tennessee lead to 24-20 with 8:27 remaining.

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The Vols got the ball back, but unfortunately had an ill-advised play on the return, which had them starting at the five-yard line. Guarantano threw them out of the shadow of the end zone with a huge pass to Callaway for 18 yards. This was one of those drives that Tennessee needed to milk about six minutes off the clock and score in some manner. Missouri brought the pressure, and sacked Guarantano at the 23-yard line. After settling for yards, Tennessee was forced to punt.

Missouri gained possession, but was pressured from the start by the Tennessee defense. Bituli and Henry To’o To’o led the defensive stand, forcing Missouri into bad throws and then a big tackle by To’o To’o. The Vols pushed their way through the Tigers defense again, forcing them to punt and giving Tennessee the ball back.

Tennessee needed one drive, one drive to finish this game off and clinch a bowl berth. That’s exactly what they got, thanks to Guarantano and the offense. Jennings caught the ball on 3rd down and turned it into the game-clinching play.

A lot of folks didn’t know what to expect tonight when Guarantano got the start. He’d played well in is previous outings coming off the bench, but he earned the starting job back. Tonight he made a statement, along with his receivers. JG finished 23-40 for 415 yards and 2 TDs. He was spreading the love around to a trio of WRs that all had over 100 yards receiving. Jennings had 115 yards and one TD, Callaway finished with 110 yards and one TD and Palmer had 124 yards on six receptions.

That’s an impressive night on the road.

Let’s not forget the Tennessee defense, who held Missouri to 280 total yards and under 100 yards rushing. This was a game in which the Vols defense was put into some awkward spots, thanks to some special team problems, but they held tight at the end. Credit to the schemes that were called tonight, which setup players like Bituli to have 12 total tackles and a sack. This group showed just how far they’ve come since that season-opening loss. Just a completely different look, and one that wont be lost on folks.

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Tonight, Tennessee clinched their sixth win and a bowl berth. The thought of something along these lines weren’t crossing the mind of fans just eight weeks ago, but that wasn’t the case for the players. This group has never given up, never hung their head and just kept grinding. They’re now 5-1 since the Georgia loss and on a four-game winning streak.

It’s been a crazy season, but I imagine Tennessee players, coaches and fans will take one extra game. They’re not ready to finish the book yet.