Tennessee report card: It wasn’t pretty, but Vols win fourth straight
Let’s be frank: It wasn’t pretty.
Still, Tennessee managed to secure a road win against a team it had never beaten. That’s cause for celebration in Knoxville, albeit subdued. The Vols beat Missouri 19-8 on Saturday to ensure their best regular-season record since 2009. Here are the deserved grades:
Tennessee wasn’t explosive offensively, but the Vols did enough to keep the Tigers out of striking distance. Had Tennessee finished off more drives with touchdowns, the game would have been incredibly lopsided. Sophomore running back Jalen Hurd was the workhorse, carrying the ball 34 times for 151 yards. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs was a threat on the ground. He ran for 54 yards on 10 carries. The passing game was not great, with Dobbs completing 16-of-24 passes for 89 yards.
Tennessee’s defense made sure Missouri was never in the game. The Vols limited the Tigers to 223 yards and just 88 yards rushing. Tennessee recorded five tackles for a loss and forced a fumble. Junior Jalen Reeves-Maybin led the way with seven tackles. It was a team effort, however, with seven Vols compiling four tackles or more. The Vols’ motto was “Three and Heat,” meaning a three-and-out would get them to the sideline — where the heaters were located on a cold night. It seemed to work, as Tennessee’s defense held Missouri to 2-of-15 on third-down conversions.
Special Teams: B
Tennessee coach Butch Jones said the Vols would need kicker Aaron Medley after his struggles against Alabama. That proved true Saturday. When Tennessee’s offense stalled, Medley was there. He converted 4-of-5 field goal attempts. Medley missed a 31-yard attempt, but the Vols can live with his production. Evan Berry managed a 41-yard return as teams continue to scheme against the Vols’ return units. Berry seemed to fumble but Tennessee recovered the loose ball. Punter Trevor Daniel boomed a 61-yard punt and had four punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
Tennessee’s coaches had a significant challenge Saturday. They had to prepare for cold conditions and face a team that was fighting to be bowl eligible and desperate to win Gary Pinkel’s final home game, following the recently announcement that he is resigning after the season to focus on his health. No matter, the Vols were ready to play. That’s a tribute to Tennessee’s coaching staff. The Vols also utilized Dobbs in the running game enough to keep Missouri on its toes. That had been missing in recent weeks.
The game wasn’t pretty. Few thought it could be. However, Tennessee’s football team dispatched Missouri in a professional manner. That’s a sign of a mature football team. Tennessee is a win against Vanderbilt away from posting its best regular-season record since 2007.