I dare say nobody saw that coming.
Tennessee 62, Missouri 24.
Yes, if you were orbiting Mars Saturday and missed it, that score is correct. This dilapidated Vols’ football team put it all together, played a nearly-perfect game and hammered Missouri on its home field Saturday, this Missouri team that was purported to be a dark horse in the SEC East title this year.
When Tennessee introduced us to Josh Heupel in January, I wasn’t doing cartwheels. Frankly, me doing cartwheels or yoga is illegal in most states, but that’s jumping on a different horse. This wasn’t a home-run hire, in my view. I thought it more a single, take second on the error. But I understood the hire. Newly-acquired athletics director Danny White came from Central Florida and poached his old coach. Why? Nobody else wanted to come to Tennessee.
Again, I don’t know how this coaching hire is going to work out, and it’s dangerous to pronounce judgment, good or bad, based on five games and an explosive performance against a bad/troubled team (Mizzou fired its defensive line coach today). I will say this: I’m not sure Jeremy Pruitt could have pulled this off. This team seems to be improving, playing with heart, hustle and purpose and steamrolled an SEC team on the road.
And before the season started, I had this game in the loss column.
This was a great performance on both sides of the ball. The Vols rushed for 452 yards. Judging by what I’m hearing about Missouri’s defense the cats at our radio station might have done that, too, but it’s not a negligible feat. Again, I’m not sure they could have done this with the last coaching staff.
For the second straight game, the second straight SEC game, the Vols won the takeaway battle. Tennessee picked off Connor Bazelak twice and took care of the football. In prior weeks, Tennessee has struggled with penalties, turnovers, poor center-quarterback exchanges, connecting on the deep pass and scoring in the red zone. It seems this team, with 30 players gone to the transfer portal, a new coaching staff, off-field distractions, and so much uncertainty is finding ways to crystalize as a team and improve.
And this team is developing its young players to the point where you can see improvement. The offensive line, for example, played very well, despite not having Cooper Mays at center and being banged up. The Vols had a walk-on running back score a touchdown.
You are seeing this team get better. Moreover, the fans are becoming more animated. The fan base has waited for this. This past Sunday is what many Sundays felt like during autumn months in the 1990s.
Again, I caution the fan base to go only as high as you care to fall with this team and regime. There is a long way to go in this season and with this evolutionary process. This was but one big, blowout win over an SEC team, one that was long awaited.
But for the Big Orange fold, at least, for one weekend this year, it sure felt good. The Vols had 11 possessions and scored on 10 of them. During the 11th possession, Tennessee was stopped on fourth down at the one-yard line. Some say UT scored. The refs begged to differ.
Whatever the case, this was a dominant win over a favored Southeastern Conference opponent. Tennessee posted 62 on their scoreboard.
It, honestly, should have been 77.
Editor’s note: Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and the host of The Pressbox, which airs from 4-6 p.m., Monday-Thursday on WRJB, 95.9 FM, Camden.