Like two ships passing each other in the night, the seasons of Missouri and Tennessee continued sailing in opposite directions Saturday night, as the Vols pulled out a 24-20 win over the Tigers in Columbia. The win completes a stunning turnaround for coach Jeremy Pruitt’s team, who have rebounded from opening losses to Georgia State and BYU to clinch 3rd place in the SEC East and a spot in the post season.
One of the keys for the Vols on Saturday, just like throughout the rest of their resurgence, was the improved play of QB Jarrett Guarantano. The junior New Jersey native had what was perhaps the best game of his career, going 23-40 for 415 yards and 2 touchdowns. Guarantano had the Vols marching up and down the field all night, racking up a season-high 526 yards of total offense. Despite the record setting total, the UT offense was slow out of the blocks, with a 3-and-out and a missed field goal on their first two possessions, before a 51-yard Jauan Jennings catch and run sparked a drive that ended with LB Quavaris Crouch plunging into the endzone from the 1 yard line. Jennings, Josh Palmer, and Marquez Callaway would all have big days receiving, going for 115, 124, and 110 yards, respectively. Jennings and Callaway would each add a touchdown as well. It would be Callaway’s TD catch from Guarantano that would put the Vols up 24-17 in the 4th quarter, a lead that they would not relinquish.
While Tennessee moved the ball down the field with ease, Kelly Bryant and the Missouri offense was never able to find a consistent rhythm throughout the game. Outside of the teams 3 scoring drives, their longest drive was 25 yards. A clearly not 100% Bryant finished the game 16/28 for 166 yards and a touchdown, but wasn’t able to consistently impact the game on the ground, totaling 18 yards on 10 rush attempts. Relative to the rest of the game, the Tigers started off hot on offense, scoring on 2 of their first 3 drives. Including a 30-yard Tucker McCann field goal to start the game, as well as a Bryant pass to Tyler Badie to take back the lead at 10-7 after the Vols first score. Badie would score his 2nd touchdown on his only other reception of the game later on, catching a pass from Micah Wilson on a nicely designed double pass play. That would tie the game up at 17, but Callaway would put the Vols back on top two drives later and Mizzou could only muster up a McCann field goal and two punts on their last three drives.
Tennessee will now host in-state rival Vanderbilt and attempt to not only break a 3-game losing streak against the Commodores but also clinch a very unlikely winning season. Missouri, however, is somehow still waiting to hear from the NCAA on a potential bowl game. For that ruling to matter, they will have to go on the road and beat Arkansas in the Battle Line Rivalry game. Sounds easy enough, but after watching a 5-1 start turn into 5-6, coach Barry Odom will have to make sure his team up for the task.