COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — When asked by reporters on Tuesday about facing the struggling Missouri defense, Tennessee running back Tiyon Evans was initially coy but then said, “We’re going to have some fun.” He got that right. The Volunteers piled up 683 yards of offense and crushed the Tigers 62-24 on Saturday.
Quarterback Hendon Hooker completed 15 of 19 passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns, and he rushed 15 times for 80 yards and another score for the Volunteers (3-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference). Evans carried 15 times for 156 yards and three touchdowns.
“Some really positive things today — the ability to run the football, the ability to stretch the field vertically, to be accurate and consistent and to be good on the few third downs we had,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said. “But I said this to the players: ‘This is the tip of the iceberg of what we’re capable of.’”
The Volunteers built a 28-3 first-quarter lead without ever needing to run a third-down play. Among the many highlights was Evans’ 92-yard touchdown run in which he ran through a massive hole on the right side and wasn’t touched by a Missouri defender. It was the third-longest touchdown run in Tennessee history.
“As soon as I got the ball on the mesh, there was nothing but green grass in front of me,” Evans said.
The Tigers (2-3, 0-2 SEC) entered the game ranked 129th out of 130 FBS teams in rushing defense, allowing an average of 269 rushing yards per game. Tennessee had 275 rushing yards in the first half alone as it built a 45-10 lead. It finished with 458 yards on the ground.
The best moment for Missouri came on special teams when Kris Abrams-Draine returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
“We weren’t ready today,” Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said. “That’s on me.”
FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME
It was the first SEC victory for Heupel, and it came at a place where he previously coached. Heupel was Missouri’s offensive coordinator in 2016-17 before becoming the head coach at UCF. Heupel said he attached no special personal significance to the victory.
“I’m going to enjoy this one, take a shower, get on the bus and start watching the film and start corrections from there,” he said. “Nothing personal in this for me. I wanted our players to get a result from the work they’ve been putting in.”
BOTTLING UP BADIE
The Tennessee defense contained Missouri’s big-play threat, Tyler Badie, holding the running back to 41 yards on 21 carries. Heupel said stopping Missouri’s outside running plays was a point of emphasis. The Volunteers made eight tackles for losses.
“It wasn’t just one guy making a tackle, it was a bunch of white shirts,” Heupel said.
Tennessee: Hooker, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, lost the preseason quarterback battle to Joe Milton, but since taking over as the starter in Game 3, he has emerged as a solid player. Hooker guided the Volunteers to scores on their first nine drives. He delivered touchdown passes of 35 yards to JaVonta Payton, 35 yards to Velus Jones Jr. and 24 yards to Cedric Tillman.
Missouri: It’s been a disastrous start to the tenure of first-year defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, a former NFL head coach. After using a 4-2-5 formation the first four games, Wilks started the game in a 3-3-5 against the Volunteers, but Tennessee was not bothered in the least by the new look. Missouri’s defensive line and linebackers couldn’t get off blocks, allowing Tennessee running backs to get into the secondary with ease. When asked if he was considering making a change at defensive coordinator, Drinkwitz said, “I just stepped off the football field. I haven’t considered anything like that.”
Tennessee: The Volunteers play South Carolina at home on Oct. 9.
Missouri: The Tigers meet North Texas at home on Oct. 9.
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