On their first trip to Faurot Field, Tennessee's Vols found yet another SEC team they can't beat.
Missouri's 31-3 blitz on Saturday night was yet another reminder of how far UT's program has slipped in the last handful of years. The Vols were a virtual no-show in the Show Me State.
"We're down on ourselves," said UT safety Brian Randolph. "We know we didn't play Tennessee football."
Unfortunately, this is becoming the norm for Tennessee football. Dating back to last season, UT has lost five games by at least 23 points.
This one was particularly troubling. The Vols put up only token opposition at the point of attack. Even with veteran offensive and defensive lines, UT got no push up front on either side of the ball.
"It's a line of scrimmage game," Jones said. "… We have some individuals up front that have played a lot of football here. We take pride in being a physical football team, and we weren't that."
The result: Missouri ran for 339 yards while UT gained 94. Tigers quarterback Maty Mauk ran for more yards (114) than all of UT's backs combined.
There were a few points of light here and there for the Vols, however, most notably the play of quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who made his first college start. Dobbs became the eighth true freshman to start at quarterback for UT since the Vols abandoned the single-wing offense in the early '60s.
Despite some glitches, including two interceptions and a fumble, Dobbs served notice that he should be UT's quarterback of the present as well as the future.
As for Mizzou, let's give credit where it is due. The Tigers are good, as their No. 10 national ranking indicates. They are 8-1 overall and lead the SEC East at 4-1. If they had closed the deal against South Carolina a week earlier, they would be in total control of the division.
Still, Mizzou doesn't have a roster that reminds you of Oregon or Alabama, two teams that also embarrassed the Vols this season. Yet, the Tigers dominated this game and exposed UT's shortcomings at various positions. The Vols were outmuscled and outrun. Jones called the speed differential between the two teams "glaring."
With five losses in its last seven games, UT is 4-5 and is running out of time to attain bowl eligibility. The Vols must win two of their three remaining games — Auburn, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Otherwise, UT will stay home in the postseason for the third straight year and the fourth in six seasons.
With the exception of the near-miss against Georgia and the upset of South Carolina, this has spiraled into just another forgettable season for Tennessee football. No wonder Vols fans are focused so heavily on recruiting rankings. When the product on the field looks like this, why not fixate on things that might yet be?
UT's offensive line, reputed to be the strength of the team, again did not play up to its pedigree. In addition to its breakdowns in the running game and pass protection, the Vols offensive front was guilty of several false-start penalties.
"It's very disappointing," said senior offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James. "As a group, we didn't establish the line of scrimmage."
The outcome was decided in a 5 minute, 14 second span of the second quarter when Missouri scored 17 points to take a 24-3 lead into halftime. After pushing the margin to 28 points midway through the third quarter, the Tigers coasted home.
True, there is some young talent on this UT team. Dobbs is a prime example. Against Mizzou, he had his moments — good and bad.
Dobbs' running ability was a welcome addition to the UT offense, with a 33-yard keeper on a zone-option play setting up a Michael Palardy second-quarter field goal for the Vols' only points. Dobbs also threw several on-time, on-target passes, including three straight completions on a series late in the first half.
At times, however, Dobbs looked like a freshman. On one play, he scrambled to his right and ran into teammate Rajion Neal. The collision threw Dobbs off balance and he fumbled on the ensuing tackle.
All in all, it was about what was expected. Dobbs' ability is obvious. So, too, is his inexperience. While Jones has done most things right in his first year as Vols coach, this is one area where he fumbled. He should have gotten Dobbs onto the field earlier in the season.
Moving forward, Dobbs figures to get most of the snaps the rest of this season as Justin Worley recovers from an injury to his throwing hand. And if the Vols are going to make it to a bowl, Dobbs must perform beyond his years.
"We have to keep building it," Jones said. "Nobody said it was going to be easy."
But I'm not sure anybody knew it was going to be quite this hard.