Coming into today’s game against Missouri, Tennessee was looking to find consistency on both sides of the football. You didn’t have to watch for very long on Saturday to know that the Vols showed up in Columbia on a mission. This game was a measuring stick for the Vols, and even the Tigers. How would each team respond coming off a loss? Well, it showed in the first quarter.
It was the Hendon Hooker show for the Vols today, as the quarterback took the field for his 3rd start of the season. The offense would switch things up a bit at the receiver spot, as Velus Jones Jr. slid into the slot position, while Cedric Tillman and JaVonta Payton played on the outside. It was a quick start for the Tennessee offense, as they set the tone early, with Hendon Hooker hitting Payton for a 35-yard touchdown pass. This was the start Josh Heupel was looking for out of his offense, and it didn’t stop there.
As the first quarter moved on, it turned into the Tiyon Evans show for the Vols. Evans, who had already scored on a 8-yard TD run, bursted up the seems for a 92-yard touchdown run, giving the Vols a 14-3 lead. It wasn’t stopping at this point, as he added another TD in the first quarter to give Tennessee a 28-3 lead. There was no looking back from here. The Vols offense finally looked like the unit Heupel has been harping on them to become.
On defense, the Vols were getting after Connor Bazelak on every down, forcing mistake from the Tigers QB. The Vols picked off Bazelak twice on Saturday, causing him multiple problems with pre-snap reads. It seemed as though this defense was turning a corner, even without LB Juwan Mitchell. It felt as if Missouri didn’t have an answer for the offensive tempo that was set by the Vols. Jeremy Banks and Jaylen McCollough both had interceptions for Tennessee today.
Tennessee had eleven drives on offense today, scoring on 10 of them. If it weren’t for a missed review by the officiating crew, it would’ve been 11-11. There wasn’t much Missouri could do to slow down this Vols offense, even on the quick outs, which they figured out the hard way. It was the Hendon Hooker to Velus Jones Jr. 35-yard TD connection that gave the Vols a 35-10 lead. It felt at that moment that this game was over. There wasn’t a a thing the Missouri defense could do to stop the Vols, and it looked embarrassing.
Josh Heupel added postgame, “This is the tip of the iceberg, we’re just scratching the surface of what we are capable of.”
This turned into the perfect opportunity for Tennessee to get some of the younger players involved, including Len’Neth Whitehead, who had 76 yards rushing. If it seemed like Tennessee was purposely running up the score in the 4th quarter, they weren’t, Missouri was just exposed today.
The Vols were looking for a breakout game, and they finally handled business for all four quarters. A dominating win, in the form on 677 total yards, with 452 of those yards coming on the ground.
Tennessee looked like a team that decided to stop experimenting with certain options on offense and go with their playmakers. Today, it paid off and now we see if they can carry it over to next week.
This quote from Heupel during his postgame press conference, has to give fans some hope and a glimpse into the coaches mindset.
“Were trying to get as good as we can as fast as we can. From last week to this week, there was a ton of growth.”
If you’re a Tennessee fan, you gotta love what you saw out of this group today.