The Missouri offense came back to life in spurts against Tennessee on Saturday, but it wasn't enough.
Volunteers quarterback Jarrett Guarantano picked apart the Tigers' depleted secondary for 415 passing yards, and three different Tennessee wide receivers eclipsed the 100-yard mark as Missouri played without starting cornerbacks DeMarkus Acy and Jarvis Ware for a majority of the game due to injuries.
The Volunteers’ aerial attack took advantage and propelled Tennessee to a 24-20 Southeastern Conference victory over Missouri on senior night at Faurot Field.
“They battled, they competed, they fought. We came up short and I hate it,” Missouri head coach Barry Odom said.
“It sucks,” Missouri offensive lineman Trystan Colon-Castillo said. “It (expletive) sucks.”
Missouri slimmed its deficit to four points when Tucker McCann made a 33-yard field goal with 8:27 remaining.
After making a defensive stop, MU punted on its next possession with less than four minutes on the clock. It never got the ball back.
The Tigers faced a third-and-3 on that drive, only to suffer a two-yard loss on a designed quarterback draw with Kelly Bryant tackled on a Tennessee cornerback blitz.
Bryant finished the game with 16 completions on 28 pass attempts for 166 yards and a touchdown. Bryant managed 18 rushing yards, as mobility issues surfaced again because of lingering injuries.
“It’s late in the season,” Bryant said. “Everybody’s pretty much beat up and sore.”
“He’s not 100%,” Odom added of Bryant. “How healthy is he? I don't know what a percentage would be, but not very. He is such a competitor and he's just battling.”
Bryant said he managed the frigid temperatures by staying on a stationary bike when not on the field. It doubled as a way to make sure his hamstring didn’t get sore. The Clemson transfer missed the Georgia loss because of that ailment.
“Once he gets out in the open field, you don’t ever see the burst, and I hate it because it’s not who he is,” Odom said of Bryant. “He's doing everything he can to battle and get prepared and get ready. Nobody ever said injuries were going to be fair. It's part of the game, unfortunately.”
The slide continues for the Tigers, as their losing streak reaches five games with a 5-6 record.
The last chance for Missouri to become bowl-eligible comes on a short week, on the road Friday against Arkansas in Little Rock. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on CBS.
Tennessee won its fourth straight game and improves to 6-5.
Guarantano’s passing yardage was the most given up by Missouri since 572 yards to Purdue’s David Blough last September.
“I think it’s tough for anyone that has been in a position where they pour a lot into something,” Missouri wide receiver Barrett Banister said of the losing streak. “(Missouri wide receivers) coach Garrick (McGee) said this quote: ‘If you’re passionate about something, it's not easy to control your emotions.’ I think that’s just kind of how it feels right now.
“I think there's a lot of frustration. We’ve poured a lot into this and we’re passionate about what we do. It’s tough. No one wrote up the script this way. You've got to adapt, you've got to adjust, and we've got a game in five days that we've got to go and play our guts out. We got to get to win No. 6, and that’s the bottom line.”
Running back Tyler Badie scored both Missouri touchdowns on passing plays. The Tigers’ first came in the second quarter, breaking a streak of 33 straight possessions without a touchdown.
The latter didn’t land in Badie’s hands from a Bryant pass. Micah Wilson, who switched after last season from quarterback to wide receiver, checked into the game as a receiver.
He first caught a backwards pass from Bryant and then tossed the ball to a wide-open Badie for a 15-yard score. It was Wilson’s first career touchdown pass.
Even with the originality of Missouri’s play-calling, including a successful fake punt, it couldn’t find enough of a rhythm to earn a victory in its home finale.
“After a loss like that, it's tough,” Bryant said. “It’s emotions everywhere. Everyone's down. You have to find ways to pick yourself up. It’s tough right now for us. We've kind of got in a little hole where we keep getting knocked down.”
The Volunteers frequently picked on Missouri backup cornerback Christian Holmes, who committed three pass interference penalties in the loss.
Missouri’s Johnathon Johnson and Albert Okwuegbunam also missed the game with injuries. Odom said after the game he expects Okwuegbunam will be back against the 2-9 Razorbacks.
The Tigers blocked two kicks in a game for the first time since facing Connecticut in 2015, but they couldn’t take advantage to buck their losing trend.
Missouri will have one final opportunity for its sixth win of the season — 48 days after win No. 5 on Oct. 12 against Mississippi.
“I feel like we've got a lot of fight left,” Colon-Castillo said. “I feel like everybody probably counted us out, thinking that we're a bunch of quitters and all this stuff, but that's not us, that's not who coach Odom made us to be. That’s not what we're going to do.”
Even with their latest loss, the Tigers continue to stick by Odom, whose job security has recently faced a firestorm of speculation.
"Obviously things haven’t gone the way we’ve planned this year, but there’s no other person I’d rather have lead this program,” Banister said of Odom. “He’s the man for the job. ... We all believe in him and he’s going to get this program to where it needs to go.”