Gary Pinkel won’t miss nights like Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Pinkel’s final home game as the Tigers’ coach wasn’t the celebration many envisioned after Tennessee crashed the party, delivering a 19-8 whupping.
“I’m real disappointed (for) my players,” Pinkel said. “I didn’t want it to end like this. We’ve got another game left, another opportunity, but I certainly ... I didn’t want it to end like this.”
Adding to the insult, the 28-degree temperature at kickoff was the coldest for any home game in Pinkel’s 15-season tenure, which was a factor in only 59,575 showing up for the sendoff.
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Thankfully, freshman quarterback Drew Lock nipped the pylon on a fourth-and-inches option keeper at the goal line early in the fourth quarter, preventing the third shutout in Pinkel’s 190 games on the Missouri sideline.
Pinkel announced Nov. 13 that he had follicular lymphoma and would resign after the season. The announcement capped an already tumultuous season, which also included starting quarterback Maty Mauk’s suspension after four games and a brief player boycott amid racial protests two weeks ago.
Despite the loss, seniors Connor McGovern and Evan Boehm picked Pinkel up at midfield and carried the program’s all-time winningest coach off Faurot Field.
“I love those kids,” Pinkel said. “They know what I’m like. I like to win, man. That’s what we got in this business for. When we get on the field, that’s our job. That’s my job is we win. When it’s tough to win, it’s my job to find a way to win. I feel like I let them down. Bottom line, I feel like I let them down. There’s been a lot of distractions this year.”
It was, far and away, the best moment in an otherwise forgettable game.
“We told each other, win or lose, we have to do this,” Boehm said. “He deserves this. If that didn’t happen, then there’s something wrong. He’s a legendary coach.”
Boehm said he also stopped Pinkel when he told the players after the game he let them down.
“I had to speak up and I had to say something …,” Boehm said. “He said it in front of the team and I said, ‘Coach, you better not that say that again, because that’s not true at all.’ The guys backed me up with that. Coach Pinkel didn’t let us down. We let coach Pinkel and this coaching staff down. … Pinkel is a great guy and an awesome coach and an awesome father figure for us. We wouldn’t be here without coach Pinkel, and it’s the truth.”
Missouri hung around by forcing a slew of first-half field goals by Tennessee, 7-4, but never really threatened to take a lead at any point in the game.
The Tigers totaled only 223 yards and averaged 3.8 yards per play, the fourth game this season that number was less than 4.0 yards.
Missouri, 5-6, momentarily exhaled early in the fourth quarter when Lock tossed a 23-yard touchdown to freshman wide receiver Cam Hilton.
Upon review, Hilton’s first career score was wiped off the board, because his knee touched a half-yard from the end zone.
Senior running back Tyler Hunt was stuffed on two straight carries after a first-down incompletion before Lock’s touchdown scamper.
Sophomore tight end Jason Reese hauled in a two-point pass, trimming Tennessee’s lead to 19-8, but that’s as close as Missouri would get.
Pinkel put the game in his defense’s hands several times later, opting to punt rather than go for it on fourth down, but the Volunteers were able to bleed the clock and avoid a late-game meltdown.
Lock, who finished 13 of 30 for 135 yards, was intercepted for the third straight game on the opening drive.
Half the Missouri offense, including intended receiver Wesley Leftwich, appeared to be blocking for a run play as Lock was picked off along the home sideline near midfield.
That led to the first of three Tennessee field goals before halftime.
Sophomore Aaron Medley capped the Volunteers’ first drive with a 34-yard field goal and added 22- and 44-yard field goals before halftime.
He blew a 31-yard try midway through the second quarter.
Missouri jumped offsides, shortening a fourth-and-9 to fourth-and-4, when Butch Jones decided to fake a fake field goal, attempting to draw the Tigers offsides again.
It didn’t work and Medley instead pushed his kick wide right after a timeout.
Tennessee still managed to pump its lead before halftime when junior quarterback Josh Dobbs ran through three tackles on an 8-yard touchdown run with 17 seconds remaining.
The lead was 16-0 at halftime, which is more points than Missouri had scored in six of its eight previous games.
The Tigers wrap up the regular season at 1:30 p.m. Friday against Arkansas at Fayetteville, Ark.
“We’ve got to go back to work,” senior cornerback Kenya Dennis said. “Guys’ heads aren’t down, because we’ve still got some fight in us, but we just know we’ve got to go back to work.”
TENNESSEE 19, MISSOURI 8
TENN: FG Medley 34, 8:19.
TENN: FG Medley 22, 1:05.
TENN: FG Medley 44, 12:59.
TENN: Dobbs 8 run (Medley kick), :17.
TENN: FG Medley 30, 5:13.
MU: Lock 1 run (Reese pass from Lock), 9:49.
Pnt/Int Ret Yds
RUSHING: Tennessee, Hurd 34-151, Dobbs 10-54, Kamara 7-43. Missouri, Hansbrough 12-41, Witter 6-28, Lock 6-11, Hunt 5-8.
PASSING: Tennessee, Dobbs 16-24-0-89, Team 0-1-0-0. Missouri, Lock 13-30-1-135.
RECEIVING: Tennessee, Pearson 7-28, Kamara 4-23, Malone 2-35, Hurd 2-(minus 3), Et.Wolf 1-6. Missouri, Hilton 2-41, Leftwich 2-41, Brown 2-10, Reese 2-5, Hansbrough 2-(minus 2), J’.Moore 1-22, Dilosa 1-21, Witter 1-(minus 3).