Witter and Rountree lead the way in Missouri’s 50-17 dismantling of Tennessee

The Tigers rushed for 433 yards and outscored the Volunteers 26-0 in the second half.

Missouri running back Ish Witter, 21, pushes down field while three Bulldogs follow in pursuit against Georgia in 2016. Maneater File Photo

Entering Saturday night’s Southeastern Conference contest at Faurot Field against the University of Tennessee Volunteers, the Missouri Tigers knew they had to adjust their offensive game plan to have success against Tennessee’s third-ranked pass defense.

And adjust they did.

Missouri moved away from the pass-first offense the team has used for much of the season and torched the Volunteers on the ground en route to a 50-17 win in the team’s final game in Columbia this season. Missouri’s margin of victory was its largest ever against an SEC opponent.

With the win, the Tigers moved to 5-5 on the year and put themselves in prime position to qualify for a bowl game for the first time since the 2014-15 season. The team now needs a road win against either Vanderbilt or Arkansas in the final two weeks of the season to secure a bowl bid.

Head coach Barry Odom said his team’s improvement, especially on offense, has been no surprise.

“We executed in most every aspect,” Odom said. “We wanted to run the football, and our offensive line did an excellent job of blocking at the point of attack.”

After throwing 31 touchdown passes through his team’s first nine games, good for best in the country, junior quarterback Drew Lock was tasked primarily with handing the ball off against Tennessee. Missouri ran for 433 yards and two scores on 53 running plays, exposing Tennessee’s 122nd-ranked rush defense.

On his Senior Day, Ish Witter had his best day as a Tiger, rushing for a career-high 216 yards and a touchdown. On Missouri’s second drive of the game, Witter rushed six times for 70 yards and the score, bending Tennessee’s defense to his will and setting the tone for how the rest of the game would go. But the biggest rush of the game came from his counterpart, freshman running back Larry Rountree.

As the clock wound down on the first half, Missouri’s defense failed to stop Tennessee on fourth-and-2, leading to a Volunteer touchdown that tied the game at 17. The Tigers got the ball back with 1:15 left in the first half but failed to complete a pass on second and long and on the next play opted to hand the ball off to Rountree to kill time and end the half. But Rountree was having none of that.

Exploding outside and flying down Missouri’s sideline, Rountree got the first down and then some, picking up 64 yards on the run and putting Missouri in a position to score a touchdown before the half. Then, with 18 seconds left in the half, Rountree burst through the middle of the line and scored from the 1-yard line, giving Missouri a 24-17 lead going into the half and all the momentum in the game.

The Tigers didn’t look back and outscored Tennessee 26-0 the rest of the way en route to a blowout victory.

Missouri’s defense came up especially big in the second half. The team recorded five sacks, including two on Tennessee’s opening drive to begin the third quarter. Missouri also forced turnovers on three consecutive drives in the third quarter and four on the game.

Facing freshman quarterback Will McBride, who made his first career start on Saturday, the Tigers pressured the young quarterback and forced him to make bad throws throughout the night. The plan worked, as the Tigers picked McBride off twice, with redshirt senior Anthony Sherrils and redshirt junior Kaleb Prewett recording the interceptions.

Redshirt senior Jordan Harold said the team prioritized pressure in the game plan before Saturday’s contest.

“The plan was to pressure him, to get to him, to get in his face and do whatever we could to get to him,” Harold said.

Mizzou will get its first chance at bowl eligibility next Saturday on the road against Vanderbilt. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. C.T.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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