Homestand hopes dashed for Pinkel, Tigers

Missouri loses to Tennessee 19-8 in outbound skipper’s last home game.
Missouri Tigers quarterback Drew Lock (3) is tackled during a game at Faurot Field in Columbia on Nov. 21, 2015. Mizzou lost to Tennessee, 19-8.

For a few fleeting moments, Finis Stribling IV made it look like the Missouri Tigers were going to send Gary Pinkel off in style.

Stribling ran the opening kickoff of Saturday’s senior night game against the Tennessee Volunteers 27 yards to give the Tigers excellent starting field position. The fans at Faurot Field let out a brief cheer, allowing themselves to be optimistic about a team that has let them down time and again throughout the season.

They should have saved their breath — Missouri freshman quarterback Drew Lock would throw an interception on a broken play later in the series.

“It was a messed up play to say the least,” Lock said. “I should have thrown it out of bounds. It was a bad play on my part.”

The Tigers would match their first half showing with an equally uninspired one in the second and go on to lose 19-8.

“I didn’t want it to end like this,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.

Mizzou plays one more game at Arkansas on Friday, but Saturday was Pinkel’s last chance to coach his team to a win in front of a home crowd before he retires at the end of this season.

Pinkel, per his character, said the blame rested squarely on his shoulders.

“Bottom line, I feel like I let them down,” he said. “They’re awesome and I love them. They know that.”

Senior cornerback Aarion Penton played a solid game for his coach, recording seven tackles and returning a fourth quarter punt 22 yards to set up Missouri’s only touchdown of the game. Still, Penton absolved his coach of any wrongdoing.

“I just feel disappointed that we let him down and couldn’t bring home the ‘W,’” he said. “We all love him and he’s the reason why we are here.”

At kickoff, the temperature sat at a frigid 28 degrees. Snow had fallen earlier in the day and the inclement weather kept many fans away from the stadium.

Missouri’s offense seemed flustered by the flurries, too. Kick returners accounted for 74 yards in the game’s first half, 12 more than the offensive unit was able to generate. The Tigers were only able to muster 223 yards of total offense and entered the red zone only once.

Tennessee, on the other hand, seemed unperturbed by the cold weather. The Volunteers chose to shirk long sleeves and balaclavas in favor of braving the elements.

“That is just a mentality, that’s a mindset that we have in our football program,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said of the team’s gritty getup. “You embrace the uncontrollable factors and we embraced it.”

The Volunteers also embraced an old-school, grind-it-out brand of football, doing most of their damage on the ground. Junior quarterback Josh Dobbs ran in a score and sophomore running back Jalen Hurd rumbled for 151 yards, a career high.

Missouri’s defense, to their credit, held Tennessee to just 83 passings yards, their lowest total since 2003.

The Tigers will have to build on positives if they want to give Pinkel a win in his last regular-season game as head coach. Kickoff in Fayetteville is set for 1:30 p.m.

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