KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Southeastern Conference gauntlet Missouri is navigating this season appeared to lessen in difficulty with a trip to No. 21 Tennessee on Saturday, after a season-opening loss to No. 2 Alabama.


Whether it was travel woes or the Volunteers just delivering, the Tigers again were put into too deep of a hole to get out of in the second half.


Tennessee overpowered Missouri 35-12 in front of a socially distant crowd of 21,159 (under 21% of regular capacity) at Neyland Stadium.


In Week 3, Missouri (0-2) is scheduled to travel to nationally ranked LSU for an 8 p.m. kickoff in Baton Rouge.


Tennessee (2-0) is slated to put its undefeated streak of eight games (dating back to last October) on the line next weekend against No. 4 Georgia.


Here are three things we learned in Missouri’s second straight loss to open the Eli Drinkwitz era:


1. Missouri’s rush defense is vulnerable.


Tennessee’s veteran offensive line found holes in the Tigers’ first line of defense throughout the game. Whatever yards the Volunteers needed to pick up on any given play appeared to be there way more times than not.


Tennessee finished with 51 carries for 232 yards as a team, and every touchdown was scored by a running back or was a rushing touchdown.


Despite Missouri’s pass coverage being inconsistent with Jarvis Ware out of action with a knee injury, Tennessee preferred the ground attack, with Volunteer senior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano attempting 23 passes compared to 51 rushing attempts by Tennessee on the day.


Missouri’s defensive line rarely got the best of Tennessee in the trenches and couldn’t flip the field against Tennessee’s rushers.


The Volunteers were led by Eric Gray, who had 16 rushes for 105 yards and a touchdown. Gray also had UT’s lone receiving touchdown.


2. The Tigers can’t win with so many unforced errors.


The Tigers had at least seven drops from wide receivers. The offense and defense each had three penalties for a combined 49 yards. Missed tackles happened throughout the game.


All of those things combined to leave a huge gap between the teams in the score than maybe the Tigers deserved.


If Dominic Gicinto catches a Connor Bazelak deep throw in the second quarter with only turf in front of him, it could’ve been a different game.


Bazelak didn’t make many mistakes throughout the game, but his fourth-quarter interception deep into Volunteer territory was a significant error, underthrowing Daniel Parker Jr. by a few yards.


3. Bazelak is the quarterback until further notice.


The redshirt freshman from Dayton, Ohio, didn’t play in the first quarter, but he was on the field for every offensive series after.


In his three quarters of relief, Bazelak was 13-of-21 for 218 yards and only that one costly interception.


Bazelak played only two offensive series last week against Alabama and had limited playing time in three games in 2019. He also had offseason ACL surgery after tearing that muscle against Arkansas last November.


His longest performance of his college career showed promise for the Tiger offense and should lead to much more playing time for him going forward.


eblum@columbiatribune.com


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