By RONALD WYNN | Nashville Voice
The Tennessee Vols and Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders each had rough days Saturday, while the University of Memphis continued it’s path back to respectability.
Tennessee was hoping to qualify for a bowl bid, but instead over 90,000 fans at Neyland Stadium witnessed one of their worse efforts this season as the Vols were routed 50-17 by the Missouri Tigers.
It didn’t help matters that former UT head coach Derek Dooley is now the Tigers’ offensive coordinator. Dooley had a happy return to the place that canned him six years ago, with Missouri QB Drew Lock throwing a pair of touchdown passes.
Larry Roundtree had 135 yards rushing, and the Tigers improved to 3-4 in the SEC (7-4 overall) with a third straight victory. Lock, most likely a first-round NFL draft pick, completed 21 of 30 passes for 257 yards. He now is in second place on the SEC’s all-time list.
Tennessee’s offensive line woes continued, with starting QB Jarrett Guarantino knocked out of the game in the first quarter following a pair of vicious sacks. Replacement Keller Chryst completed only seven of 19 passes for 173 yards and had two interceptions.
Tennessee did have a brief 7-6 lead on a five-yard touchdown run by Ty Chandler in the first quarter. That was the lone Volunteer highlight, as four straight Missouri possessions resulted in touchdowns, putting Missouri comfortably ahead 26-10.
The lead later expanded to 40-17 and the Volunteers had no answers for a Missouri team in the midst of a four-game winning streak. But Tennessee can still salvage something if they can beat Vanderbilt in Knoxville Saturday.
“We want to go to a bowl game, we’ve got to go get it,” Chandler told the Associated Press. “It’s not going to be handed to us.”
There were no expectations that Middle Tennessee State would beat 20th-ranked Kentucky, despite the Wildcats’ recent losses to Georgia and Tennessee.
In fact, the Blue Raiders played a tough game, only losing on the road 34-23. Had they not had a pair of early turnovers, both caused by Kentucky’s Mike Edwards, that were turned into touchdowns they might well have won.
MTSU actually got within 31-23 in the fourth quarter, and only a late field goal expanded the final margin to 11. But the Blue Raiders couldn’t overcome seven sacks, two from UK’s all-time leader Josh Allen, plus the fumble and interception from Edwards.
Brent Stockstill stood tall despite the constant pressure, completing 30 of 33 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns. MTSU out-gained UK 392-324 yards, and Stockstill became the 25th player in NCAA history to reach 100 career touchdowns.
“We didn’t flinch,” MTSU coach Rick Stockstill told the Associated Press. “With six or seven minutes left in the game we made it a one-score game, and we couldn’t finish it off.”
MTSU’s four-game winning streak came to an end, but they’re still 7-4 with a key matchup against Conference USA’s West leader UAB at home Saturday. They remain in contention for a conference title and are already past the threshold for going to a bowl.
The University of Memphis is also bowl eligible and they improved their American Athletic Conference mark to 4-3 (7-4 overall) with a 28-18 victory over the SMU Mustangs.
SMU dipped to 4-3 in the conference (5-6 overall). It was the rushing brilliance of Patrick Taylor Jr., who had 111 yards and two touchdowns, that set the pace for a slow-starting Memphis team that was only ahead 7-3 at halftime.
SMU closed to within two points right before the end of third quarter, but Memphis put the game away with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. Brady White had his second touchdown pass of the game, this one a nine-yarder to Joey Magnifico as the fourth quarter began. Then Taylor added a two-yard run to give the Tigers a 16-point lead and solidify things. Memphis’ final regular season game was a home showdown with Houston Friday morning.
Revived Grizzlies win
After only 15 games the Memphis Grizzlies have almost half as many wins as they did all last season.
Sunday they defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 100-87 in Minneapolis to push their early season record to 10-5. Marc Gasol had 26 points and 13 rebounds, while Mike Conley had 18 points and nine assists.
But what’s keying the Grizzlies resurgence is what’s been their trademark throughout their past run of being a consistent playoff team: solid defense.
They began the game with the second most points off turnovers among NBA teams, and they turned 20 Timberwolves’ turnovers into 19 points as they won their fifth in the last six games.
“That’s (defense) what gives us the best chance to win against any team,” Gasol told the Associated Press. “I think that’s who we try to be consistent.
“Obviously, last year was a little glitch in the system, but for the past—what, 10, 11, 12 years—this team has taken pride on being a very physical team, and that’s what gives us the best chance to win,” he continued.
The Grizzlies also snapped the Timberwolves three-game winning streak, despite 15 points and 20 rebounds from the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns.
The Grizzlies’ JaMychael Green returned to the lineup following a 12-game absence due to a broken jaw.
The Grizzlies had the Dallas Mavericks at home to begin the week, the second of a back-to-back set. They then began a two-game road trip that saw them in San Antonio Wednesday, and Los Angeles Friday against the Clippers.
They return home next Sunday for an afternoon game with the Knicks.