Quick Summary: This one may have done it. Conventional wisdom suggested embattled Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley needed to win out in November to keep his job. One loss, so the word goes, would be enough to doom him.
Well, after squandering a fourth-quarter lead over Missouri with its usual porous pass defense and allowing a winnable game to get into overtime, the Vols lost yet again, on Andrew Bagget’s 35-yard field goal in the fourth overtime. Tennessee is still looking for its first SEC victory in Neyland Stadium this season.
Does this mean Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart had better get his short list of coaches out and start making calls?
Of all the damning statistics suggesting that the Dooley regime is coming to a close, here’s the worst one: Under Dooley’s watch, the Vols are now 4-18 in Southeastern Conference games, 1-13 the last two seasons, and 0-6 this season.
Even the Tigers, who struggled at the start of their first season in the SEC, have fared better than Tennessee. Missouri, 0-4 in the league through Oct. 13, has now won two of its last three league games and played Florida close before losing, 14-7.
It was over when: Missouri prevented Tennessee from scoring in the fourth overtime. From that point, all the Tigers needed to win was a field goal, which Baggett delivered.
Tennessee player of the game: Junior quarterback Tyler Bray put together another big day, completing 37 of 54 passes for 404 yards and four touchdowns. In his last two games, Bray has completed 66 of 101 passes (.653) for 934 yards and nine touchdowns.
Missouri player of the game: Quarterback James Franklin turned in a gritty performance in the second half and overtime after struggling in the first half (2-of-8 passing for 18 yards and an interception). He finished with 226 yards passing and 43 yards rushing. Franklin completed 19 of 32 passes, four of which went for touchdowns.
Franklin, who has been through “a year from hell,” said his coach, Gary Pinkel, underwent offseason shoulder surgery, then injured his other shoulder against Georgia. He missed a game, then three games after that, against Vanderbilt, he sprained his knee. That forced him out of another game.
He didn’t look like his old self against Tennessee, but he delivered when the Tigers needed him.
Unsung hero: Missouri’s heralded true reshman receiver Dorial Green-Beckham made two catches in the game and both of them went for touchdowns. The first came in the fourth quarter and tied the score at 28. The second was in the third overtime, and it staked the Tigers to a 48-42 lead.
Three stats of note:
1. Tennessee and Missouri entered the game tied for the all-time NCAA lead with 10 overtime victories each.
2. Tennessee’s defense has given up 38 or more points in six straight games, the first time that’s happened in Southeastern Conference history.
3. Missouri was 4 of 5 in fourth-down efficiency.
Where does Tennessee go from here?: Start looking for a new coach, perhaps? The Vols need to get one more victory to ensure bowl eligibility, but the way they are struggling in SEC games, that’s no guarantee, especially at Vanderbilt, which no doubt still carries a grudge after losing at Tennessee in overtime last season.
Even if Tennessee wins out to finish 6-6, it’s going to be hard to justify keeping Dooley. The Vols have been awful in SEC play, fans are becoming disinterested and the program continues to slip further and further behind the league’s powers. That’s not going to cut it for a proud fan base that has every reason to expect the program to compete, if not for overall SEC championships, at least in the East Division. The gap between the Vols and the top teams in the league is getting so vast it may take years to close.