COLUMBIA, Mo. — In his final home game, Missouri’s Ish Witter gashed Tennessee’s defense for 216 yards rushing as the Tigers cruised to a 50-17 victory on Saturday night.
Witter averaged 9.0 yards per carry and scored a touchdown while exceeding 2,000 yards rushing for his career. Witter, generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, has never begun a season as Missouri’s No. 1 option at running back, but by virtue of his dependability and durability, he has been a valuable contributor.
“I’ve never seen a guy give so much to the university, whether it’s his time in this building, whether that’s him running out there and knowing that three guys are going to take his head off and still sticking his nose in there to get a first down,” Tigers’ quarterback Drew Lock said.
It was a good night to be a Missouri running back, as Larry Rountree carried 18 times for 155 yards and a touchdown. The Tigers (5-5, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) dominated the line of scrimmage, with both running backs often reaching the secondary before they were touched. The Volunteers (4-6, 0-6) compounded their problems with numerous missed tackles.
“Both tailbacks are running as physical and tough as anyone we’ve had around here in a long time,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said.
The Tigers racked up 433 yards rushing and 226 yards passing. In its last two games against Tennessee, they have gained a combined 1,399 yards.
“Sometimes it’s not setting the front the right way. Sometimes it’s getting off blocks and maintaining our gap integrity,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said of his defense’s woes. “Everyone on defense is tied to a string. All it takes is one individual to be out of their gap and you’re going to give up a big football play.”
Lock completed 13 of 28 passes for 217 yards with four touchdowns. Emanuel Hall caught five passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. He would have had a much bigger game if not for three drops, including one sure touchdown.
Nigel Warrior intercepted Lock in the first quarter and scored on a weaving 70-yard return, helping the Volunteers tie the game at 7.
Freshman Will McBride, whose redshirt was pulled last week, became Tennessee’s third starting quarterback this season, following Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano. McBride showed his toughness late in the first half when he absorbed a huge hit from safety Anthony Sherrils but bounced back to convert on fourth-and-2 with a 22-yard pass to Brandon Johnson. Then he released a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ethan Wolf just before being knocked flat on his back by defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr.
It was the Volunteers’ first touchdown pass since Sept. 23, ending a five-game drought. That tied the game at 17 with 1:15 left in the half. But Tennessee yielded a 64-yard Rountree run that set up his 1-yard touchdown plunge with 18 seconds left before intermission.
The Tigers dominated the second half, thanks in part to a defense that forced four turnovers, including three takeaways on three straight Tennessee snaps. Sherrils started that binge with an interception and finished it by ripping the ball from Carlin Fils-aime and recovering the fumble.
McBride completed 16 of 32 passes for 139 yards, with two interceptions. Missouri sacked him five times, including two each by Marcell Frazier and Tre Williams.
Missouri: The Tigers have won four straight games and dominated all of them. Their average margin of victory was 37 points.
“We’ve got some things going in the right direction,” Odom said. “Just want to keep on pushing.”
Tennessee: The lopsided loss will only add to the heat on Jones. The Volunteers need to win their final two games to qualify for a bowl. Jones, who is 34-27 in five seasons at Tennessee, deflected a question about his job status after the game.
“It’s about these seniors, it’s about these players,” he said. “It ain’t about the coach, it ain’t about nothing else.”
Missouri: The Tigers will try to become eligible for a bowl next week when it visits Vanderbilt (4-6, 0-6) on Saturday.
Tennessee: The Volunteers will finish the regular season with two home games, beginning Saturday with a visit from No. 24 LSU (7-3, 4-2).