KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Missouri showed Tennessee.
Dominated in the first half, Missouri awoke after halftime and rallied to defeat Tennessee, 51-48, Saturday in four overtimes before 89,272 fans at sun-splashed Neyland Stadium.
After Tennessee failed to score in the final overtime, Missouri ran three ultraconservative plays to set up Andrew Baggett’s game-winning 35-yard field goal that snapped the Vols’ eight-game winning streak in November.
The Vols’ final chance to score ended on fourth-and-two from the 17 when usually sure-handed Zach Rogers couldn’t hang on to a Tyler Bray pass in the right flat.
“That was a tough one,” said Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, whose job security will be more precarious Sunday than it was Saturday. “We fought good and our players played their tails off, but we didn’t execute at the end to win the game.”
With the win, Missouri broke a tie with Tennessee for the most overtime wins in NCAA history. The Tigers now have 11 and the Vols 10.
Tennessee fell to 4-6 overall and 0-6 in the Southeastern Conference. Only winless Kentucky, which fired coach Joker Phillips earlier in the week, is keeping the Vols out of the SEC East cellar. Kentucky plays at Tennessee on Nov. 24 in the regular-season finale.
“I don’t know (about the future),” said Dooley, who is 15-20 overall and 4-18 in the SEC. “There’s a lot of negativity and that comes with the territory.”
The Vols now brace for bitter rival Vanderbilt in Nashville next Saturday at 7 p.m.
Missouri, facing Tennessee for the first time, improved to 5-5 and 2-5.
“This just proves we can play at this level, that we belong in the SEC,” Missouri tailback Kendial Lawrence, who rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns, including a 77-yard scamper in the third quarter that ignited the Tigers’ second-half comeback.
“That really sparked everyone and helped us believe that we had a chance,” Missouri quarterback James Franklin said.
Missouri tied the game at 28-all on Franklin’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Dorial Green-Beckham with 47 seconds left in regulation. That capped a 76-yard, 11-play drive that ate 4 minutes off the clock. The Tigers converted a fourth-and-nine when Franklin hit Marcus Lucas for a 17-yard gainer to the Tennessee 23.
Four plays later, the Tigers faced a fourth-and-12 from the Vols’ 25. Franklin connected with Green-Beckham for the touchdown.
After the ensuing kickoff, Tennessee had possession at its 39 with 43 seconds and two timeouts to work with.
Bray threw incomplete pass and then found tailback Marlin Lane in the left flat on a screen that gained nothing.
At that point, Dooley decided to let time run out and take his chances in overtime.
A chorus of boos rocked the stadium more than a 4.3 earthquake that originated just south of Whitesburg, Ky., just prior to Saturday’s 12:21 p.m. kickoff.
Postgame radio show callers scorched Dooley for “giving up and not trying to win.”
Said Dooley,” The first two plays, I was pushing it. We screwed up both of those plays – poor execution. I didn’t have confidence we were going to get it on third-and-10.”
Tailback Rajion Neal was asked about Dooley’s decision to run time down in the players’ postgame press conference.
“I don’t know why he did it, but the boss said, ‘Let’s do that.’ ” Neal said. “I felt that was kind of smart not taking any chances and just playing it out in overtime.”
The teams traded touchdowns for three overtimes.
Franklin hit Jimmie Hunt on a 24-yard scoring strike. Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, who passed for 404 yards and four touchdowns, hooked up with Neal from 8 yards out, tying the game at 35-all.
Tennessee got the first possession in the second extra period. Missouri held – momentarily – and forced an apparent field goal. However, holder Tyler Drummer, who played prep football at nearby Powell, faked the field goal and ran 5 yards through a wide hole on the left side for a touchdown.
On third-and-three against Tennessee’s defense, ranked 60th nationally in third-down efficiency, Franklin connected with Marcus Lucas for a score to knot the game at 42-all.
The Tigers started on offense in the third overtime and faced a third-and-10. Franklin, who threw four interceptions against Florida a week ago, was on target to Green-Beckham for a score.
Free safety Byron Moore was defending the play, but never saw the ball and Green-Beckham made him – and the Vols – pay.
Franklin’s two-point pass attempt failed, leaving the Tigers up 48-42.
Six plays later, Bray confronted a third-and-11 from the 13 – each overtime drive starts at the 25 – and tossed a game-tying touchdown pass to Justin Hunter, who caught nine passes for 141 yards in the game. Bray’s conversion pass – a score would have won the game – fell incomplete.
More bonus football was ahead.
Tennessee was on offense first.
Bray fired an 8-yard pass to Marlin Lane out of the backfield.
Bray hit Hunter for no gain.
On third down, Missouri’s Daniel Easterly broke up Bray’s pass.
With one more chance, Bray flipped a pass into the right flat, but the usually sure-handed Zach Rogers couldn’t pull the ball in.
Why not kick a field goal?
“Left-hask kick,” Dooley said. “It wasn’t incredibly far. It was fourth-and-three and I didn’t have a lot of confidence that we were stopping them on the other side.”
Bray wanted that pass back.
“I would not have taken so long to throw it,” he said. “We had the guy and I saw a different coverage than what they were playing. I just held on to it too long.”
Missouri’s Lawrence ran twice for 8 yards. Franklin nudged his way left toward the center of the field for no gain, setting up Baggett for the field goal that broke Tennessee’s heart.
“It was an intense game,” Baggett said. “We all believed that we were going to win.”
And they did.
“Any time you win a game like that, with four overtimes, you have a tremendous amount of plays,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “Tennessee did, too. Fortunately, we made them at the end to be successful.”
It was a game of two halves.
Tennessee mauled the Tigers with 383 yards of offense – the Tigers had a meager 64 – and built a 21-7 lead at the break. Cordarrelle Patterson scored on a 5-yard run, A.J. Johnson had a 3-yard burst and tight end Mychal Rivera made a dazzling, diving catch of Bray’s 21-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone.
Rivera ended with 129 yards on 10 catches, second-most by a tight end in Tennessee history behind Gary Kreis’ 11 against Kentucky in 1969.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 244-pound senior from Valencia, Calif., didn’t feel like celebrating, though.
“(The loss) stings a lot,” he said. “We really wanted to win, but things just didn’t go our way.”
Justin Hunter had nine receptions for a game-high 141 yards. It was Hunter’s eighth career 100-yard receiving game, tying him for third on the Vols’ all-time list.
Tennessee finished with 153 yards rushing, 62 by Neal. The Vols also had three rushing touchdowns, but none by a running back. Patterson, a wide receiver; Drummer, a holder; and Johnson, a linebacker, found the end zone on runs of 5, 5 and 3 yards, respectively.
Defensively, the Vols played as well as they have all year in the first half, but Missouri gained 317 yards in the second half and while holding the Vols to 125.
A whale of an effort turned into just another unimpressive performance.
That leaves Tennessee as the only team in SEC history to allow 38 points or more in six consecutive games.
Defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri’s decision to call plays from the press box failed to slow that disturbing trend.
At least Saturday’s game wasn’t a blow like the 44-13 fiasco against Alabama.
“This is the worst kind of loss you can have in overtime,” Vols defensive back Justin Coleman said. “You feel like you are about to win, you are up the whole game and when you lose it just brings you down.”
Missouri 7 0 14 7 7 7 6 3 – 51
Tennessee 7 14 7 0 7 7 6 0 – 48
TENN – Cordarelle Patterson 5 run (Michael Palardy kick), 4:08
MIZZ – Jimmie Hunt 87 kickoff return (Andrew Baggett kick), 3:55
TENN – A.J. Johnson 3 run (Palardy kick), 9:56
TENN – Mychal Rivera 21 pass from Bray (Palardy kick), 4:10
MIZZ – Kendial Lawrence 77 run (Baggett kick), 14:38
TENN – Alton Howard 16 pass from Bray (Palardy kick), 8:03
MIZZ – Lawrence 1 run (Baggett kick), 4:12
MIZZ – Dorial Green-Beckham 25 pass from James Franklin (Bagget kick), 0:47
MIZZ – Hunt 24 pass from Franklin (Baggett kick)
TENN – Raijon Neal 8 pass from Bray (Palardy kick)
TENN – Tyler Drummer 5 run (Palardy kick)
MIZZ – Marcus Lucas 18 pass from Franklin (Baggett kick)
MIZZ – Green-Beckham 10 pass from Franklin (pass failed)
TENN – Hunter 13 pass from Bray (pass failed)
MIZZ – FG Baggett 35
First Downs 20 32
Rushes-Yds. 49-228 36-153
Passing Yds. 226 432
Com.-Att.-Int. 19-33-1 38-55-0
Total Offense 454 585
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-1
Punts.-Avg. 5-49.6 5-44.4
Penalties-Yds. 2-10 11-80
RUSHING — Missouri: Kendial Lawrence 21-153, James Franklin 17-43, Marcus Murphy 8-28, Russell Hansbrough 3-4; Tennessee: Raijon Neal 15-62, Marlin Lane 8-47, Cordarrelle Patterson 5-28, Tyler Bray 3-7, Tyler Drummer 1-5, A.J. Johnson 1-3, Alton Howard 1-2, Quenshan Watson 1-1, Team 1-minus 2.
PASSING — Missouri: Franklin 19-32-1 226, Barrow 0-1-0 0; Tennessee: Bray 37-54-0 404, Patterson 1-1-0 28.
RECEIVING — Missouri: Bud Sasser 2-61, Marcus Lucas 5-51, Dorial Green-Beckham 2-35, T.J. Moe 3-33, Jimmie Hunt 1-24, Gahn McGaffie 3-15, Murphy 3-7; Tennessee: Justin Hunter 9-141, Mychal Rivera 10-129, Patterson 3-53, Zach Rogers 4-32, Lane 7-26, Brandon Downs 1-18, Howard 1-16, Neal 1-12, Ben Bartholomew 1-5.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)