COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri's defense needed someone to step up and make a stop against Tennessee.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, they didn't have any volunteers.
A unit that has been gashed all season looked to hit rock bottom Saturday in a 62-24 loss to Tennessee at Faurot Field. The Volunteerss had 677 total yards, 425 of them coming in the first half, and scored on every drive until Missouri got a goal-line stop at the 1-yard line with 10:18 left.
"To say I'm disappointed is an understatement," Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said. "It's my responsibility to have this team prepared and ready to play to represent this university in the right way and I didn't do my job today."
Tennessee's offense had a nearly perfect first half with 45 points on seven drives. The Vols averaged 11.5 yards per play with 37 first-half plays. Tennessee's first six drives all ended in touchdowns with the first five coming in under two minutes. The Missouri (2-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) defense got a red zone stop on its final possession, forcing a 25-yard Chase McGrath field goal that gave Tennessee (3-2, 1-1 SEC) a 45-10 lead at the break.
"We just didn't execute the game plan," Missouri defensive back Kris Abrams-Draine said. "They did everything we thought they were going to do."
Hendon Hooker and JaVonta Payton got the scoring started with a 35-yard touchdown pass with 12:28 left in the first. Missouri answered with a 43-yard field goal by Harrison Mevis, his 14th straight make, before Tennessee got three straight rushing scores from Tiyon Evans to go up 28-3 with 1:31 left in the first.
Evans had an 8-yard score to kick things off before a 92-yard score where he went nearly untouched as he sprinted past the Missouri defense. The next drive he scored from one yard out after Jeremy Banks was just short of returning his interception of Connor Bazelak for a score.
"I think the biggest issue (on offense) was the interception," Drinkwitz said. "It kind of put us in a really bad spot when it was 21-3 at that time. Trying to just get back into it at one point and try to get explosive play, we throw an interception and it goes 28-3. Then we go back down and score, but you know at that point it's an uphill battle."
Evans finished with 156 yards rushing with three scores to lead Tennessee's ground game, including 123 yards in the first half. Evans entered the game with 211 yards and two scores through the first four weeks of the season.
The Vols ran for 452 yards, having success against Missouri's new set with Jatorian Hansford as a middle linebacker or the team's typical four-man defensive front.
"We thought we could fit the gaps and maybe get the runs to bounce a little bit but we weren't able to maintain our gap integrity and gave up some big runs," Drinkwitz said.
Missouri's offense also had its struggles. Tyler Badie's 6-yard touchdown run with 4:53 left in the second was the offense's first and only touchdown of the first half. The offense finished with as many turnovers (two) as it did touchdowns.
Badie led the Tigers on the ground with 41 yards on 21 carries while Bazelak finished 27-for-44 passing for 322 yards and a pair of picks. Badie became the first Missouri player ever to have more than 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving with three catches for 27 yards.
After another McGrath field goal to open the second half, Abrams-Draine returned the kickoff 100 yards for a score to cut the Tennessee lead to 48-17.
The Vols answered with Hooker's second TD pass of the day, a 24-yard strike to Cedric Tillman to increase the lead to 38 with 7:25 left in the third. Hooker was 15-for-19 for 225 yards and three scores through the air.
D'ionte "Boo" Smith scored on a 4-yard sweep with 5:47 left for MU's second score. That run capped off a 10-play 99-yard drive after the goal-line stand early in the fourth, cutting the Vols lead to 55-24.
Marcus Pierce had a 27-yard score for Tennessee with 1:46 left to mercifully end the game at 62-24. Drinkwitz had no comment when asked about the future of defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.
This moved Missouri's record to 0-3 against Power Five teams. The Tigers have given up 35 points or more in all three.
"I just stepped off the football field," Drinkwitz said. "I haven't even considered anything like that, so I have no comment or anything like that."
Missouri plays North Texas for Homecoming at 3 p.m. Saturday.
"You got one of two options," Drinkwitz said. "You either circle up as teammates and coaches and fight for each other and fight your way out of this, or you point fingers, you blame. At the end of the day, the only people that can solve it are in that room. As coaches and players working together as a team. We're not doing that right now and that's on me."