KNOXVILLE – Is this the last report card for Derek Dooley as the head coach at Tennessee? That’s still to be determined, but it was the same old story of a good offensive day being overshadowed by a horrific defense and a few bad game-management decisions.
The Vols played one of their better first halves of the season. They took a 21-7 lead into halftime and surrendered only 64 yards of total offense to Missouri during that time. The Tigers made up for it in the second half with 303 total yards on their way to a 51-48 victory in four overtimes.
Here’s a full report card from the Vols’ performance Saturday:
It wasn’t a perfect day for quarterback Tyler Bray, but it was a third straight solid performance from the junior. He completed 37-of-54 attempts (68.5 percent) for 404 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and was sacked once. He’d like to have a couple of throws back, but almost every other quarterback in the nation would like to have his numbers, so it’s hard to complain about his performance.
Running backs: B
Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane are developing into a decent tandem that can get the job done in the SEC. Neither put up huge numbers (Neal had 62 yards, Lane 47), but put it together, add in a little help from a few others and the Vols finished the day with a respectable 153 yards on 36 carries. The most improved part of Neal and Lane’s game is that they run hard and straight, things they didn’t always do earlier in the season.
Wide receivers/tight ends: A
These units were anchored by huge days from tight end Mychal Rivera, who had a career day with 10 catches for 129 yards, and receiver Justin Hunter, who added nine receptions for 141 yards. Each scored a touchdown. Cordarrelle Patterson continues to show off his versatility. He piled up 161 all-purpose yards via rushing, receiving and returning to go along with completing a 28-yard pass. He does it all.
Offensive line: B+
It was another solid outing for one of the most consistent units on the team. It allowed only the fifth sack of the year on Bray, but other than that, he wasn’t under consistent pressure. The offensive line did a good job of limiting potential All-SEC defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson of Missouri, who didn’t make any game-changing plays.
Defensive line: D
Daniel McCullers made one of the best defensive plays of the year for the Vols when he punched the ball out from Missouri running back Kendial Lawrence to allow safety LaDarrell McNeil to recover it and make a nice return. It was a relatively quiet day for the rest of the unit. Defensive end Marlon Walls had five tackles and defensive end Maurice Couch added three stops.
A.J. Johnson led the way in tackles with 11. Curt Maggitt was playing one of his best games of the year before going out with a potentially serious knee injury in the fourth quarter. He finished the game with five tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a pass broken up and three quarterback hurries.
It showed some signs of progress early but couldn’t get any key stops down the stretch. Missouri converted two fourth-and-long situations in the final two minutes of the game and was never stopped in overtime. Most of that damage was done through the air. The Vols lost Missouri receivers on several key plays, including the 25-yard touchdown reception by Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham that sent the game to overtime. A dropped interception by corner Jaron Toney hurt field position in the fourth quarter. A nice interception by cornerback Prentiss Waggner was one of the few highlights.
Special teams: C-
The fake field goal in the second overtime by holder Tyler Drummer was executed to perfection. That kept the Vols alive, but poor special teams play was part of the reason the game even made it that far. Missouri kick returner Jimmie Hunt was the first player to return a kickoff return for a touchdown on the Vols since 2009. Kicker Michael Palardy had one of the worst field-goal attempts of the season when he badly pushed a 43-yarder right. Palardy averaged 45.8 yards per attempt on four punts, including a long of 59. Devrin Young was back returning punts after missing last week with a concussion. He had two returns for 12 yards.
There’s no official word as of early Sunday evening, but coach Derek Dooley and his staff are probably out of chances. They survived last week’s defensive fiasco against Troy to coach another week. But after a strong start against Missouri, it was another meltdown and more importantly, another loss this Saturday. There were so many chances for Tennessee. On multiple occasions, the team needed to make just one or two plays to end the game. It could never do it. Dooley vowed to make big changes on defense, and there was some tangible improvement in the first half. It was back to its old ways in the second half and overtime, though. The lack of defensive consistency has been too much to overcome all season. It now might cost Dooley his job.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.