Missouri’s 51-48 win over Tennessee in four exhilarating overtimes on Saturday felt like a season-saver. The Tigers headed into the game in Knoxville at 4-5 with the road to a bowl bid in peril.
The Tigers were also a game under .500 last year when they came from behind to win as an underdog on the road, at Texas A&M. This year, Missouri (5-5, 2-5 in SEC play) seemed overmatched in the first half, falling behind 21-7 as Tennessee (4-6, 0-6 in SEC) rolled up and down the field. Missouri was helped by a kick return for a touchdown, a missed Tennessee field goal, and a forced fumble, the specialty of this Tiger defense, all of which kept Tennessee from putting the game away.
Missouri gamely fought back, and after several momentum swings in the overtimes, the Tigers pulled out their first SEC road win. It also felt like redemption for Missouri quarterback James Franklin, who after a four-interception performance at Florida last week was outstanding when it mattered most last Saturday, including a 25-yard touchdown pass on fourth down in the final minute and three more touchdown passes in the overtimes.
Missouri benefited from some questionable decisions by Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley. With his offense on the field on a fourth-and-three in Missouri territory in the second half, Dooley opted to have his quarterback punt the ball away instead of going for it. (Just a tip, if ever you find yourself coaching the 2012 Tennessee Volunteers and can choose to rely on your offense or your defense, go with offense.)
If Dooley is indeed let go, that would mean both of Missouri’s SEC wins came against coaches who were subsequently fired, with Kentucky’s Joker Phillips getting let go already this season. Maybe there should be a term for this phenomenon. Getting the Pinkel slip?
Regardless of the Tennessee’s current state, this was a win Missouri sorely needed, and they came from two touchdowns behind on the road to get it. Well done.
The win moved Missouri within one game of bowl eligibility. The Tigers’ best chance to get that done is this Saturday at home against Syracuse (6 p.m. on ESPNU).
Syracuse (5-5, 4-2 in Big East play) has been far from great this season, but they did pick up a big win last Saturday when they rolled previously undefeated and then-No. 9 Louisville, 45-26. The Orange are 1-4 away from their Carrier Dome this season, with the one win 37-36 at South Florida.
Missouri is favored by nearly a touchdown, although Syracuse has a capable quarterback in senior Ryan Nassib. Nassib has thrown for over 3,000 yards this season, with 21 touchdown passes against just eight interceptions. He tossed three touchdowns with no picks in the win over Louisville. He has capable targets in Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales. The Orange also have a solid group of linebackers.
Given that Missouri’s other remaining opponent is Texas A&M, a team last seen beating No. 1 Alabama on the road, so it would be good for Missouri to get that sixth win against Syracuse. I think they will.