Missouri redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk carved up Tennessee with his legs and took advantage of repeated coverage breakdowns in the passing game during a 31-3 victory Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
In other words, fears that the Tigers, 8-1 overall and 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference, would have difficulty bouncing back from the season’s first loss — a heartbreaking double-overtime defeat last week against South Carolina — proved unfounded.
“Last week left a sour taste in our mouth and we wanted to get out here and show people,” senior wide receiver L’Damian Washington said. “There was a feeling around town, even though it was only one loss, that it was dead around town. There was a feeling like we won’t win another game, but it’s always great to go out and get another SEC win.”
Missouri dominated on the ground, racking up 339 yards in 54 carries.
“Yeah, dude, that's what we get paid to do (figuratively speaking), to move people,” senior left guard Max Copeland said. “When we don't do that well we want to make sure we redeem ourselves. Today was a little bit about redemption, and putting the past behind us.”
Mauk, who completed 12 of 25 passes for 163 yards with three touchdowns, led the way on the ground with 14 carries for 113 yards to the delight of a crowd of 65,869 — roughly 1,300 shy of a third consecutive sellout.
“I am obviously not going to stand back there and take a shot,” Mauk said. “It was time to get out and run.”
Junior Henry Josey, who had been listed as questionable because of a concussion throughout the week, added 74 yards in 16 carries, but Mauk was the unquestioned star in the running game.
“Once Maty felt the pressure, he didn’t go laterally tonight,” junior center Evan Boehm said. “He went down the field. You see him go out there and do a little shake-and-bake. It’s cool to see a running back do, but when you see Maty do it, it’s something special.”
When Missouri wasn’t chewing up Tennessee’s defense on the ground, the Tigers’ wide receivers were being allowed to roam free deep downfield behind the Volunteers’ secondary.
It all added up to a lopsided win for Missouri, which maintained its one-game lead ahead of the Gamecocks in the SEC East.
Tennessee lost on the road for the 19th consecutive time against a ranked opponent, and the 12th straight time in conference play despite left tackle Antonio “Tiny” Richardson’s guarantee of a win.
Missouri got on the board with 2:20 remaining in the first quarter when Dorial Green-Beckham hauled in a short pass from Mauk and outraced the Tennessee defense — with an assist from umpire Russ Pulley, who got caught up in traffic — across the field the middle of the field for a 9-yard touchdown.
It took a while for the Tigers to get started, but midway through the second quarter everything seemed to click into place.
Sophomore kicker Andrew Baggett connected on a 24-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead, the first of Missouri’s 17 points in the final 6:58 before halftime.
On the next play from scrimmage, Tennessee freshman Justin Dobbs scrambled to his right and lobbed a wounded-duck pass down the sideline under pressure from junior defensive end Kony Ealy. Senior cornerback E.J. Gaines, who hadn’t played since straining his right quad Oct. 12 in the second quarter at Georgia, picked off the pass.
The next play, the Volunteers’ secondary took a nap as Missouri senior wide receiver L’Damian Washington dashed to the end zone. There wasn’t a defender within 20 yards when Washington hauled in Mauk’s 26-yard touchdown toss backpedaling in the end zone.
“The whole time I was thinking, please don’t drop the ball,” Washington said. “Those are the tough ones. It felt like the ball was in the air 10 minutes.”
Trailing 17-0, Tennessee cut into Missouri’s lead on Michael Palardy’s 51-yard field goal — one play after freshman wide receiver Josh Smith dropped a possible touchdown on a wide-open post route.
The Tigers answered with an 85-yard drive capped by senior wide receiver Marcus Lucas’ 40-yard touchdown grab. Lucas, who finished with four catches for 75 yards, got behind double coverage for an easy pitch-and-catch.
Ahead 24-3, Missouri nearly padded its lead on the final play before halftime, but Baggett’s 29-yard try clanged off the left post. It was a different end zone, but eerily reminiscent of his miss on the final play against South Carolina.
No matter, the Tigers continued to dominate in the second half.
Sophomore Russell Hansbrough’s 26-yard touchdown run in the third quarter looked like a parting of the Red Sea as he burst up the middle and rumbled nearly untouched across the goal line, giving Missouri a 31-3 edge.