Takeaways: Mistakes, missed tackles slow down Missouri in shootout

Missouri couldn’t keep up with Tennessee for all four quarters in an offensive shootout Saturday, which led to a 63-37 loss.
Freshman Damarea Crockett runs the ball during Missouri's game against Tennessee on Nov. 19 in Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Missouri put up 740 yards of offense against the Volunteers, the most Tennessee has given up in program history. The Tigers still lost, though, at Neyland Stadium on Saturday.

They stuck with Tennessee for three and a half quarters, but Missouri couldn’t keep up late in the game. Here are three takeaways from Missouri’s latest Southeastern Conference loss:

Running backs running wild

Almost every player to whom Missouri gave the ball found rushing success against Tennessee.

Damarea Crockett set Missouri’s freshman season rushing record. Junior Ish Witter rushed for his first multi-touchdown game. Even freshman Nate Strong got in the game and gashed the defense, averaging 4.9 yards per carry.

Combine their efforts with an offensive line opening holes, and the Missouri running backs obliterated the Tennessee rushing defense for 420 yards, a season high for the Tigers.

“It was a good feeling, especially with our struggles earlier in the season running the ball,” left guard Kevin Pendleton said.

The rushing success started from the first drive. Missouri converted three third downs, and Crockett topped the drive off with a 22-yard touchdown scamper. He also ran for 69 of Missouri’s 72 yards during a second quarter touchdown drive that Drew Lock finished with a two-yard touchdown run.

Crockett rushed for 225 yards, the most ever for a Missouri freshman. He has rushed for 1,062 yards this season.

Pendleton said Crockett’s future as an SEC running back is bright.

“I love that kid, and I am excited for as many snaps as I get to play with him,” Pendleton said.

The Tennessee defense struggled to stop Crockett, but Witter also impressed against the Volunteers. Witter carried the ball 31 times for 163 yards and two scores, one of which included running over a man to score.

When Strong, the No. 3 running back, received rushing opportunities, he made the most of them. He had a 23-yard rush in the first half, and finished with 39 yards on eight carries.

“A three back rotation is sweet to me,” Crockett said. “I feel like we did good.”

The offensive line also did well, putting together a performance that seemed unlikely coming into the season.

“It’s amazing how much they have changed in a year,” Crockett said.

Defensive back struggles continue

For Missouri’s secondary, it seemed tackling and disciplined defense became secondary priorities against the Volunteers.

Whenever the Tigers appeared to gain momentum from a touchdown in the first quarter, they gave up a long passing touchdown and momentum in the process.

Missouri gave up touchdown passes of 49 and 57 yards in the first quarter. The first touchdown went to Jauan Jennings after Aarion Penton struggled to bring him down. Josh Malone caught the second as he snuck behind both safeties.

Missed tackles in the running game also led to big plays for the Volunteers. After Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs slipped tackles en route to a 30-yard rushing touchdown, he made Thomas Wilson whiff on his way to a 70-yard touchdown run.

“He is an even quarterback,” Penton said. “He can get out of a jam when there is pressure, and he can put the ball in the air and give his receivers a chance to make a play. He is just composed and older. He played great.”

Turnovers too much for Tigers to overcome

Missouri turned in 740 offensive yards, the second highest ever for the Tigers in a regular season game. Yet they still didn’t come close to beating Tennessee.

The problem: they lost the turnover battle.

Missouri turned the ball over four times. Tennessee finished with no turnovers.

The Tigers couldn’t afford that margin in the back-and-forth game.

“That is very difficult [to overcome] because the football is the most important thing in the game of football,” Crockett said. “It is one of those things we need to work on.”

As Missouri looked to take its second lead of the game at the start of the second half, Lock threw an interception on the first play. Lock later tossed an interception, returned for a touchdown, that gave Tennessee a 63-37 lead.

The four turnovers turned what could have been an elite offensive performance into an okay one.

“You see those stats and don’t look at the other side [of the stat sheet], and it should be a good night,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said.

Edited by Tyler Kraft | @tkraft@themaneater.com

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