Most people expected a close game, and early on the Volunteer fans at Neyland Stadium were into the game and loud on third downs, and even louder after the Vols took a 7-6 lead early in the third quarter.
But Missouri (7-4, 3-4 in SEC) quickly answered with a touchdown on just five plays, and they would never relinquish the lead. The Tigers buried Tennessee (5-6, 2-5 in SEC) from there with a relentless barrage on both sides of the ball as the big old stadium slowly emptied out except for the black-and-gold fans and the renditions of “Rocky Top” grew less zealous.
The Tiger defense utterly dominated the line of scrimmage early, knocking Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Gaurantano out of the game, and more or less had the upper hand for most of the game, holding the Vols to 255 yards. Tennessee completed just 7 of 21 passes and converted just 2 of 10 third downs. DeMarkus Acy picked off two passes for the Tigers, including one that he returned deep into Tennessee territory just before halftime, setting up a Missouri touchdown.
Joshuah Bledsoe had a fumble return touchdown in the third quarter that made it 40-17.
The offense dominated as well, with senior quarterback Drew Lock continuing his annual shredding of Tennessee with an efficient passing day. Larry Rountree ran for 135 yards. Ten different Tigers caught a pass. Missouri rolled up 484 yards of offense. Missouri offensive coordinator Derek Dooley, who served as Tennessee’s head coach until being fired in 2012, called a great game, producing a balanced attack and engaging the Tigers’ weapons.
Afterward, Missouri players joked about being “Tennessee state champs,” having gone 4-0 vs. teams from that state (Tennessee-Martin, Memphis, Vanderbilt, Tennessee).
Next up comes the regular season finale, with Missouri hosting Arkansas on Black Friday (1:30 p.m. on CBS). Missouri is trying to build this into a full-on rivalry, helpfully named the Battle Line Rivalry, so hopefully Tiger fans can focus on the last six letters of their opponent’s name and summon some animosity.
But on the field, this should be one Missouri handles fairly comfortably. The Tigers began the week as a three-touchdown favorite. Arkansas (2-9, 0-7 in SEC) has an intriguing first-year coach in Chad Morris, but this first year has been rough, including the time the Razorbacks gave up a punt return touchdown when a North Texas player tricked them into thinking he’d called a fair catch, stood still for a beat, then took off running into the end zone.
Although Missouri should have the edge here, the last two meetings in Columbia have been very competitive, and this is Arkansas’ last shot at an SEC win this year, so expect a decent effort. But in the end, Missouri should get the win and boost its bowl resume.