Missouri falls to Tennessee in senior night disappointment

The Tigers came closer than they did in previous weeks, but it wasn’t enough in the 24-20 loss.

As Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano stepped under center with 2:32 left in the game Saturday night, everything that had happened in the previous 57 minutes converged into one point: If the Volunteers converted, they would win the game. If they didn’t, Missouri would get the ball back with a chance to snap its four-game losing streak.

It would be the former, as Guarantano hit receiver Juaun Jennings near the right sideline as Tennessee (6-5, 4-3 SEC) capped off a 24-20 senior night win over Missouri (5-6, 2-5 SEC).

“They battled, they competed, they fought and we came up short,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “I hate it, that it resulted in a loss in the win-loss column.”

It was fitting that the game-sealing play was a third down conversion.Tennessee was 9-16 on third down throughout the game.

“I think it was just our execution,” safety Khalil Oliver said. “Going into the week, we knew exactly what they were gonna give us and it was just execution, and that’s on us as players.”

Missouri got on the board on its second drive of the game when senior Tucker McCann hit a 30-yard field goal. The 3-0 lead was the Tigers’ first since playing Ole Miss on Oct. 12.

The lead didn’t last long. Tennessee took over on a 1-yard touchdown run from Quavaris Crouch to cap a nine-play, 86-yard drive that took 4:34.

Facing second and goal from the 7 yard line less than three minutes later, Missouri ended its offensive nightmare spanning the last 12 quarters. Quarterback Kelly Bryant took the snap, faked a pitch and swung a pass out wide to Tyler Badie, who slipped past a Volunteer defender and into the end zone for Missouri’s first touchdown in almost a month.

“I think it’s just been a couple weeks coming, to be honest,” receiver Barrett Banister said. “For whatever reason, we had that rut starting Vanderbilt week … We had just been battling, been fighting and we finally kinda broke through a little tonight.”

Missouri had a chance to extend its lead after Tennessee went three-and-out. The Tigers couldn’t capitalize, punting after runs of 2 and 3 yards and an incompletion.

On the ensuing Tennessee drive, the Volunteers converted four third downs, one of which was third and 18 and the final going for 16 yards and a touchdown to Jennings.

Up 17-10 in the third quarter, Tennessee lined up to attempt a 48-yard field goal. Brent Cimaglia’s line drive attempt was blocked by defensive lineman Jordan Elliott and returned to the Tennessee 41 yard line by linebacker Devin Nicholson. It was Missouri’s second blocked kick of the game after Kobie Whiteside got his hand on an attempt in the first quarter.

Seven plays later, Missouri was again in striking distance of the end zone. Taking the snap on the 15, Bryant flipped a pass wide to the left to receiver — and former quarterback — Micah Wilson. Wilson caught the pass, paused to survey the defense and lofted the ball to a wide open Badie in the end zone.

“I felt like it was gonna work right off the bat,” Wilson said. “Badie was coming out of the backfield, and I figured that would lead to him being pretty wide open.”

Guarantano went after cornerback Christian Holmes all game. Holmes, in the starting lineup because of injuries to senior DeMarkus Acy and junior Jarvis Ware, was flagged four times for pass interference, the final one on a 17-yard touchdown pass to receiver Marquez Callaway, who made a leaping catch on top of Holmes. Callaway ended the night with five catches for 92 yards. Jennings hauled in four for 103.

“[Jennings] was the everything guy,” linebacker Nick Bolton said. “We knew that going into the game. [Callaway] was the deep ball threat. We knew that also going into the game. They just executed down the stretch, made plays when it counted.”

With five minutes left, Missouri found itself down 24-20 sitting near midfield. After Bryant was sacked on third and three, the punt team jogged out onto the field. McCann’s punt pinned the Volunteers inside their own 15, but it didn’t matter after Tennessee picked up two first downs. Missouri never got the ball back.

“I thought we were gonna be able to get the ball back,” Odom said. “Three timeouts, that field position.”

The loss sends Missouri reeling into its final game against Arkansas, now under .500 after starting the season 5-1, but it was an incremental step forward. After losing its previous three games by 22, 27 and 17 points, this was the first game that stayed competitive mostly through the final quarter.

“Losing sucks,” Banister said. “It’s not fun either way. We pour a lot into this stuff — I mean, I guess we were closer than we were the last couple weeks, but we lost. It stinks either way.”

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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