MO State HS Sports

Knee-Jerk Reactions: Mizzou 36, Tennessee 7.

Hope you started Cody Schrader on your fantasy team.

I went into Saturday’s matchup between No. 14 Mizzou and No. 13 Tennessee not believing that either team would blow the other out. It was shaping up to be a classic nail-biter.

But Mizzou had other ideas.

The Tigers slowly built a lead over the Volunteers, lost it briefly, and then never relinquished it, as they ended up pounding Tennessee 36-7 on Saturday in front of the fourth-straight sellout crowd at Faurot Field. A lot of frustration from the past two blowout losses to Tennessee was taken out. A lot of yards were had by Mizzou’s former D-II standout turned SEC leading rushing. And a lot of eyes were opened across the country by folks still wondering if the Tigers were legit after barely losing out to Georgia the week before.

After all of that, let’s get to this week’s Knee-Jerk Reactions:

We’re all just living in Cody Schrader’s world

The man continues to shatter all expectations. Even though the SEC’s leading rusher was facing the conference’s top rushing defense, it didn’t seem to matter. Schrader was by far the most used weapon in Mizzou’s offense, carrying it 35 times for 205 yards (5.9 yards per carry) and a touchdown, and also caught five passes for 116 yards, to give him 321 yards of total offense. He became the first Mizzou player to have more than 90 yards rushing and 90 yards receiving in a single game, and he got there before halftime. And he did it all against a team that was averaging under 100 rushing yards allowed all season. With the way he was running, breaking tackles, and even blocking downfield for other teammates, he made a 40-touch workload sound like too few.

At this point, Schrader has proven that he can be the focal point of this offense. The biggest justification for that was when Mizzou got the ball back on a takeaway near their own 20-yard line with 20 seconds left in the half. Most teams probably hand the ball off to safely bleed the clock out, but Schrader took the ball and instead broke off a 35-yard run to put his team near field goal range. He had another run to get them closer to lead to a field goal attempt for Harrison Mevis, to extend the lead to six right before halftime. For most teams in those situations, throwing the ball makes more sense. For Mizzou, in all situations, giving the ball to #7 is always the best recipe.

If Schrader isn’t the Burlsworth Award winner, we riot.

This offensive line deserves major credit, too

Schrader was unbelievable, and made several plays independent of everything else. But he doesn’t reach this historic performance without excellent run blocking from this offensive line. Again, Tennessee was the top run defense in the SEC going into Saturday. But the holes paved by this offensive line made that front look lost. It’s hard to quantify, for sure. But the game Javon Foster just put on film is going to be played over and over again in NFL scouting rooms across the country. He was outstanding. Everyone else on that line did their part too.

It also kept Mizzou on schedule all night. Mizzou went 11-of-17 on third down in this game, one of their best marks on the season. That came out the most during the Tigers’ second drive of the game, that went 20(!) plays for 72 yards, took 10 minutes 55 seconds off the clock, and ended with a field goal. There were five third down conversions on that drive alone, and most of them were on short yardage-to-go plays. It can be hard for an offensive line to keep the energy level up for that long of a drive, but they didn’t let up.

There were some things to clean up, for sure. Brady Cook did take three sacks and had a few more muddy pockets then he probably would’ve like. But the run blocking success by this offensive line largely outweighed that on a night like Saturday. The steps forward by this unit cannot be overstated.

The defense had their best game of the year

It’s clear that everyone on the defense, coaches and players, took this game personally. After giving up 60+ points in each of the last two games against Tennessee, this defense created a major script flip.

The Volunteers not only touted the league’s best run defense in the SEC, but also the top rushing offense heading into the game. They were held to 83 total rushing yards against Mizzou, more than 140 yards underneath their average. They did that without linebackers Chad Bailey, who had been ruled out for the rest of the season, and Ty’Ron Hopper, who came off the field in the first half with an ankle injury. Triston Newson filled in for Hopper afterward, and there wasn’t any drop-off. Everything was clogged up for Tennessee’s three running backs and quarterback Joe Milton. Mizzou’s effort against this tempo offense was incredible.

Sure, Milton ended up throwing the ball well (22-of-33, 267 yards, TD), but the points are the most important offensive stat here. If it weren’t for an impressive diving catch in the end zone by Dont’e Thornton Jr., Tennessee would’ve been held scoreless. Mizzou’s defense deserves all the credit in the world for holding the Volunteers to 5-of-13 on third down, getting two takeaways, and ultimately turning their opponent into a one-dimensional offense. Blake Baker coached this unit to near perfection on Saturday.

Tennessee lost this game as much as Mizzou won it

Don’t read this at all as trying to take something away from Mizzou’s win. They played tremendously and the scoreboard reflected that. That said, when two top-15 teams match up and it results in a lopsided score, it usually means both teams did their part to make it that way. And Tennessee got in their own way several times throughout the night. They failed to punish Mizzou for Brady Cook’s early interception. They committed nine penalties for 95 yards lost, including two unnecessary roughness calls after the play. They lost two fumbles, including one where the running back hit Milton’s arm before it came forward on a throw. Mizzou was clearly up for this game, and Tennessee clearly was not.

Add in the fact that Josh Heupel surprisingly looked like the more conservative coach in this one. He chose to punt three times while in Mizzou territory, and seemed to wave the white flag early with another punt around the six-minute mark of the fourth quarter and a field goal try in the final minute, down 29 points.

Mizzou should see a big boost from its No. 14 ranking this week. But I also think Tennessee deserves a similar-sized drop from No. 13.

Eli Drinkwitz earned his biggest win as Mizzou’s coach

Granted, he’s reset this mark a few times this year. The first time was when Mevis nailed a record-breaking field goal to prevail over then-15th-ranked Kansas State early in the year. He then went to another then-ranked opponent’s house in Kentucky and orchestrated an in-game turnaround to win by 17 over a team that had been a thorn in Mizzou’s side for years. But this eighth win of the season in mid-November tops them all.

Tennessee was different from every other test Mizzou had faced this year. Aside from Georgia, no other opponent for Mizzou was as talented and proven as Tennessee was on both lines of scrimmage. The rushing yardage edge of 255-83 sounds more like it should’ve been in Tennessee’s favor. But it wasn’t. Drinkwitz believed enough in his rushing attack to keep feeding Schrader on and on, and it killed the opposing side’s will. And the defense snuffed out that powerful rushing attack. When you go against the grain on the numbers in the fashion that Mizzou did, you have to give credit to the coaching and the game plan. Add in the stage and the environment, and you’ve got one heck of a statement with this resounding win.

Now Mizzou is two wins away from its first 10-win season since 2014 and just the seventh in its history. A New Years Six bowl is still a possibility. This season has been extra fun so far, and it’s not over yet.