Here are my Pick-Six opinions in the aftermath of Missouri’s 36-7 beatdown of the visitors from Tennessee on Saturday at Faurot Field. The dominating win before a fourth consecutive home sellout crowd boosted Mizzou to 8-2 overall and 4-2 in SEC play. This is MU’s best record through 10 games since Gary Pinkel’s 2014 Tigers were also 8-2.
1. This was Mizzou’s most impressive all-around performance of the season. More than that, we can go ahead and declare that this was Missouri’s best showing under coach Eli Drinkwitz.
This was Coach Drink’s 15th win in head-to-head SEC play. His Tigers won the first 14 by an average of 10.7 points, and that victory margin goes down to 8.1 points if we exclude the successes over Vanderbilt. The Tigers proceeded to whup Tennessee by 29 points after (A) coming into the matchup as a 1 and ½ point home underdog and (B) being ranked behind the Volunteers in the AP, Coaches, and College Football Playoff polling.
And this backside-kicking performance was thorough in all phases. For Mizzou there were no weak areas – only strength across the board. This thrashing exhibited everything we’ve come to admire about Missouri’s team this season. The Tigers can coach it, they can throw it, they can run it. They can win at the line of scrimmage, win on offense, win on defense, win on special teams, win on game-planning.
Missouri rolled up 180 more yards than Tennessee including a 255-83 smashing on the ground. Mizzou virtually doubled Tennessee in time of possession: 39 minutes and 56 seconds to 20 minutes and four seconds.
There were so many positives about this 29-point victory. The Tigers asserted themselves as the second-best team in the SEC East. They stayed on track for a 10-win season and strengthened their case for a New Year’s 6 Bowl Game. In the updated poll rankings announced Sunday, Missouri is 11th nationally in both the AP and the Coaches Top 25. The Tigers moved up five spots in the AP ranking and four spots in the Coaches ranking. We’ll see the Tigers rise a few spots when the updated College Football Playoff rankings are disclosed Tuesday.
2. This win meant more. That’s because Mizzou delivered some good, old-school vengeance after being humiliated by Tennessee in the previous two seasons by an average score of 64-24.
How bad of a slapdown was this for arrogant Tennessee coach Josh Huepel? Well, Heupel has been a head coach for 72 total games at UCF and Tennessee. Missouri gave Heupel his worst loss – minus 29 points – as a head coach. And Tennessee’s seven points were the fewest scored by a Heupel team in his 72 games. And this was the first time Heupel’s offense scored fewer than 13 points in a game.
2a. Mizzou’s defense was more than ready for the challenge against Heupel’s offense.
The Tigers did not grant the Volunteers much freedom to make many plays. After the Volunteers took a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter, here’s what the Tennessee offense did on its nine remaining possessions: five punts, three turnovers and a missed field goal.
The Tigers were burned for a 49-yard touchdown pass by Vol quarterback Joe Milton early in the second quarter, but he didn’t get much done after that. After producing its lone touchdown, Tennessee ran 49 plays for only 230 yards – an average of 4.7 yards.
Milton had two turnovers including a telegraphed pick-six interception by Mizzou defensive back Daylan Carnell that closed out the scoring.
Milton had 10 completions in 21 second-half passing attempts for 101 yards, an interception, a lost fumble and an abysmal 42.0 passer rating.
Milton completed only three of eight third-down passes overall including one of six during the second half.
Missouri limited Tennessee to a season-low 83 yards rushing and only 3.6 yards per rushing attempt.
After taking the early 7-3 advantage, Rocky Top was outscored 33-0 by Mizzou.
“Our defense kicked their ass,” Drinkwitz said in the immediate postgame interview on CBS.
3. Schrader the shredder does it again. The former walk-on, Cody Schrader, walked all over Tennessee.
Actually Schrader ran through and over the flabbergasted and flattened Tennessee defense. My goodness, what a spectacular day for the running back from Lutheran South high school in St. Louis.
Before I get into the Saturday specials, let me serve an appetizer. Schrader averaged 113 yards rushing per game in his career at Division II Truman State University. This season he’s averaging just about the same number of rushing yards per game (112.4) for a Missouri program that competes in the all-mighty SEC.
Schrader did a Christian McCaffrey number on the Volunteers: 40 touches from scrimmage for 321 yards. Schrader jostled and juked for 205 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 35 incursions into Tennessee’s awaiting defense. And he motored for 116 yards receiving on five catches.
Here’s a breakdown that puts more of a glow on what we witnessed Saturday:
– Schrader became the first player in SEC history to amass 200+ yards rushing and 100+ yards receiving in the same game. Moreover, Schrader was just one of only five players over the last 25 seasons to rush for 200+ and catch 100+ in the same game.
– Schrader’s impact as a receiver was exceptional. He averaged 12.2 yards per target and 23.2 yards per catch. His teammates collectively averaged 8.3 yards per target and 10 yards less than Schrader per catch. Schrader had 6.92 expected points added as a receiver in this game; no other MU receiver had more than 2.1 EPA. Combining his work as a receiver with his efforts as a runner, Schrader had a total 11.51 expected points added on offense. That’s phenomenal.
– Schrader had 10 first downs rushing and four first downs receiving. Mizzou had 15 big plays Saturday – defined as 15 yards or more on passes and at least 10 yards on rushing gains – and Schrader was responsible for eight of the 15. He had a positive-outcome percentage of 80% on his receptions and 57.1% of his runs. That’s terrific.
– Tennessee entered the Missouri game ranked 12th in the nation for run defense. Schrader’s 205-yard day left that lofty ranking in a pile of debris. Before playing Mizzou the Volunteers were allowing only 99.5 yards rushing per game against FBS level competition. Mizzou went for 255 yards rushing, with Schrader going for 205 of those yards. Before encountering Missouri, the Vols had allowed an average of only 77.6 yards after contact per game; Schrader gained 134 yards after contact Saturday.
– I know the advanced metrics aren’t for everyone, but for those who don’t mind … here’s a value rating that shows the extent of MU’s domination of Tennessee’s defense on the ground. Coming into the game, Tennessee’s FBS opponents collectively were a horrendous minus 11.8 Expected Points Added on rushing plays. Mizzou’s 2.62 EPA rushing was the only positive performance against the Tennessee run defense this season.
Schrader is putting together one of the best individual seasons in Mizzou history. He leads the SEC in rushing yards (1,124) and average rushing yards per game (112.4). He’s tied for third with 11 rushing TDs. Not only that, but Schrader leads the SEC in total yards from scrimmage (1,315) and average scrimmage yards per game (131.5).
Schrader leads Leads SEC running backs in rushing yards (431), rushing touchdowns (5) and average rushing yards per game (143.67) against ranked teams.
He leads SEC running backs in yards rushing (986) vs. FBS teams and in yards rushing (683) vs. FBS winning teams.
And Schrader leads SEC running backs in rushing yards (779) and average rushing yards per game (111.3) in games against Power 5 teams.
4. Quarterback Brady Cook shook off an early interception that wasn’t his fault and gave Mizzou a poised, highly effective performance.
After the interception on a tipped pass, Cook completed 16 of 22 throws for 237 yards and a touchdown without an additional turnover. And for the game – not counting three sack plays – Cook ran the ball nine times for 66 yards, five first downs and a touchdown.
5. Sure, there were a few mistakes. But Missouri’s offensive line did a helluva job in plowing Tennessee out of the way.
Schrader hit the designed gap on 25 of his 35 rushing attempts which underlined the effectiveness of the O-line’s run blocking. Mizzou was straightforward in its rushing approach. No real tricks. No real surprises. Tennessee’s defenders had a good idea of what was coming but it didn’t matter all that much. The MU offensive line gave Schrader the creases he needed.
Mizzou was persistent about running the ball on first down, but Tennessee couldn’t do much about it. Schrader had 20 first-down runs for 138 yards for an average of 6.9 yards per rush. His first-down runs produced three first downs and a touchdown.
Schrader made 33 of his 35 carries on first or second down – which demonstrated Mizzou’s desire to impose its will. You have to love the aggressive attitude. Tennessee’s defense just couldn’t handle Missouri’s force, even on predictable rushing downs when Schrader was set to attack the Vols again and again and again. Schrader’s runs on first and second down piled up 200 yards, eight first downs, an outstanding 55 percent positive-result rate, and 4.10 Expected Points Added.
Mistakes are inevitable for any offensive line during the course of a game. And Tennessee got some pressure on Cook. But Mizzou’s big men won the brawl and were efficient in the process. According to Sports Info Solutions Mizzou had a “blown block” percentage of only 1.6% in the triumph over Tennessee.
6. Eli Drinkwitz not only made the right move in hiring an offensive coordinator, Kirby Moore, and handing the play-calling responsibilities to the new OC. The change has been absolutely great for the Tigers.
— After beating Tennessee, Mizzou ranks 11th among Power 5 Conference teams in points per game (33.0) against FBS opponents that have a winning record. Last season the Tigers were No. 50 among Power 5 conference offenses in points per game (25.0) against winning FBS opponents.
— Mizzou is currently 13th among Power 5 teams with a scoring average of 33.8 points per game against Power 5 opponents. Last season MU’s average of 19.2 points per game vs. Power 5 teams was 50th among Power 5 offenses.
— In games against FBS competition, Mizzou ranks 10th among all Power 5 teams in Expected Points Added in the passing game and is 12th with a 108.4 passer rating. Only six Power 5 teams have a better positive-result percentage when throwing the football.
— Last season, when facing FBS competition, Mizzou ranked 37th among Power 5 teams in Expected Points Added in the passing game and was 43rd in passer rating (82.8.) And last year Mizzou was 42nd among Power 5 teams in Expected Points Added in the running game. This season their rushing game has improved to 25th.
Hopefully, Kirby Moore will stick around for a while. He’s provided immediate, substantial impact for the Missouri offense, especially in the passing game.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
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All stats used in my college football columns are sourced from Sports Info Solutions and CFBstats.com unless otherwise noted.