Missouri’s defensive front dominated by Tennessee

The Volunteers’ run game helped propel them to a win.
Missouri's defense prepares for a play during the Tigers' loss to Tennessee on Oct. 3, 2020. Mizzou Athletics

22 yards. 21 yards. 15 yards.

These were the game-long carries for Tennessee’s three running backs, Eric Gray, Ty Chandler and Jabari Small. The Volunteers’ three-pronged rushing attack averaged 6.3, 4.6 and 7.0 yards per carry, respectively, because the ball carrier doesn’t matter when an offensive line is as dominant as Tennessee’s was today.

“They ran similar plays,” inside linebacker Nick Bolton said. “we already knew that coming in, prior to the game. They had a similar game plan for both running backs; they were just successful in doing it for a long period of time.”

Tennessee was confident enough in its blocking to go for it on fourth down twice on its opening possession. Both were converted by Jarrett Guarantano’s Quarterback Sneak-A-Palooza that led him to 10 carries for 14 yards.

“They were four for four on fourth down, and I think all of them were on quarterback sneaks,” coach Eli Drinkwitz said. “We just gotta be better in the trenches and better on defense.”

Guarantano would score twice, once on that first drive and once to seal the game in the fourth quarter, on fourth down quarterback sneaks. Gray and Chandler each added a touchdown, with Chandler’s going for three yards and Gray going for 20.

“We just gotta maintain gap integrity,” Bolton said. “Throughout the game, I feel like we got out of gaps a couple times that kind of led to big runs down the stretch. But other than that, we just gotta be assignment-sound, stay in our gaps and be physical at the line of scrimmage.”

On Gray’s touchdown, edge defender Stacey Brown fell victim to a perfect kick out block from left tackle Wanya Morris. Right tackle Darnell Wright and extra lineman Cooper Mays sealed off the front-side defenders perfectly, and wide receiver Josh Palmer’s downfield blocking took it the rest of the way.

Gray went in untouched.

“Give credit to Tennessee’s line,” Bolton said. “They had the bigger front and they did a great job of zone blocking. I got a couple dark plays in there; one was a touchdown. My fault on that one. But just to keep going on their o-line, they did good up front and they work good together. We’ve just gotta find a way to get off the field.”

When Bolton said “my fault on that one,” he may be referring to Tennessee’s third touchdown, when Gray scored on a 13-yard quick screen pass. He appeared to have either believed he had contain responsibilities or just overran the play. Either way, he didn’t make the tackle and most of Missouri’s other defenders on that side were on the ground.

“I’m gonna peel back and watch the tape,” Drinkwitz said regarding what needs to be improved in the trenches. “I think there’s a couple times we missed tackles, but I’m gonna have to go back and watch the tape to figure out exactly what it is.”

Aside from that play, Bolton reminded viewers why he’s considered the star of the Tigers’ defense, making a career-high 17 tackles. Safety Martez Manuel, quickly becoming a force in the box, set a career high as well with nine.

However, Bolton knows that the run defense has to get better if the Tigers want to win a game anytime soon.

“We can’t win a game until we stop beating ourselves,” Bolton said. “So until we start doing that, it’s gonna be hard to win football games.”

Edited by Eli Hoff | ehoff@themaneater.com

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