Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Gary Pinkel went out on top. Just not in the way he wanted.
Offensive linemen Evan Boehm and Connor McGovern carried their coach on their shoulders after Saturday’s game — the last at Faurot Field for the program’s winningest coach.
But the scoreboard behind them read 19-8 Tennessee.
The night was positioned to be one to remember for Pinkel, who is retiring after the season due to health concerns. It quickly became one he and the Tigers would like to forget.
Missouri had hopes of defeating the Volunteers to earn its sixth win of the season and ensure bowl eligibility. Instead, the Tigers’ offense reverted to its hapless ways while the defense seemed to grow weary from carrying the weight all season.
Outgained by 154 yards in the first half and saddled with nine total punts, the Tigers dropped their sixth Southeastern Conference game in seven tries.
The kickoff temperature was cold — 28 degrees, a Columbia record-low during Pinkel’s tenure — and so was the Tigers’ offense.
As has been the case much of the year, the Missouri O put the Missouri D in a pickle, especially early.
On the Tigers’ sixth play from scrimmage, Drew Lock fired a pass to Wesley Leftwich, who appeared to be blocking and never saw the pass until it was in Cameron Sutton’s arms for an interception. Missouri’s next three drives weren’t much more productive, ending in three-and-outs.
Tennessee’s average starting field position on its first four drives was just inside Missouri territory. The Volunteers punished the Tigers with three Aaron Medley field goals on those drives.
Lock completed four of his seven first-quarter passes, though he might as well not have, as they went for a combined minus-1 yards.
After getting a first down on their third play of the game, the Tigers went without for the rest of the quarter. They got two, however, on their first two plays of the second quarter with a defensive pass interference and a 21-yard pass from Lock to Keyon Dilosa. But the momentum died abruptly two plays later when a fumble by tailback Ish Witter was recovered by Darrin Kirdland Jr. It was Witter’s second lost fumble in two games.
Missouri’s next three drives weren’t much better, ending in a punt, a punt and a half-ending sack.
The Volunteers finally broke through for a touchdown after the second of those. After barely keeping the Tigers afloat, the Missouri defense was washed away by the flood waters to the tune of a 10-play, 64-yard drive by the Volunteers.
Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs capped the drive with an 8-yard run, breaking a series of tackles before gliding into the end zone to ensure a 16-0 halftime lead.
Volunteers tailback Jalen Hurd tore up the Missouri defense for 108 rushing yards in the first half. Missouri had not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season in an entire game. He finished with 151.
The Tennessee offense racked up 216 yards in the first half. Missouri, meanwhile, totaled just 62 yards in the first half on 27 plays, an average of 2.3 yards. Lock had 20 passing yards, and Russell Hansbrough’s 29 rushing yards were the most by any Tiger in the half.
After the Volunteers punted to start the second half, Medley added his career-high fourth field goal of the game from 30 yards to give Tennessee a 19-0 edge.
Lock more than doubled his number of passing yards with a 44-yard pass to a diving Leftwich — he had thrown for 18 previously — but the Tigers wasted their second trip in Tennessee territory with three straight incompletions.
Missouri’s first successful drive was sparked by a 22-yard Aarion Penton punt return, giving the Tigers the ball at midfield — their best starting field position by 15 yards.
After a Mitch Hall hold set the Tigers back, a 19-yard Cam Hilton catch and a 2-yard Tyler Hunt run on fourth down kept the drive alive. Lock ran for 11 for a second first down and threw to Hilton for 22 yards for another. The play was initially ruled a touchdown, but upon review the ball was placed inside the 1-yard line. A play-action pass attempt to J’Mon Moore and two Hunt runs failed to result in points, but, after a timeout, Lock scurried to the right pylon for a fourth-down touchdown run from 1 out.
Lock finished 13-of-30 for 135 yards, and Hansbrough’s 41 were the most by a Missouri rusher.
The Tigers fall to 5-6, 1-6 in the Southeastern Conference. Tennessee is now 7-4 (4-3 SEC).
Pinkel announced a week ago he would resign at the end of the season because of a lymphoma diagnosis he received in May. His final regular-season game will be Saturday at Arkansas. Should the Tigers reach a bowl game, Pinkel said he would coach it.