No. 19 Missouri outlasts Tennessee 29-21
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Missouri found a way to win on the road once again.
Now, the 19th-ranked Tigers return home with a chance to earn their second straight trip to the Southeastern Conference championship game.
Maty Mauk threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes and Marcus Murphy ran for two scores Saturday night as Missouri defeated Tennessee 29-21 for its 10th straight road win, setting a school record.
"Everybody said we were going to lose this game, too," Missouri defensive end Shane Ray said. "It doesn't look like it."
Missouri can clinch the East Division and earn a spot in the SEC title game by winning at home Friday over Arkansas. A loss would send No. 9 Georgia (9-2, 6-2) to Atlanta instead. Georgia is 10th and Missouri 20th in the College Football Playoff standings.
Andrew Baggett's 43-yard field goal broke a 13-all tie midway through the third quarter. Mauk threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to Jimmie Hunt and a 13-yard scoring strike to Bud Sasser in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee (5-6, 2-5) must win next week at Vanderbilt to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010.
"We've got a lot to accomplish with this football team," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "We're not going anywhere. Some people never even thought we'd be playing for a bowl game."
The Volunteers cut the lead to 29-21 when Joshua Dobbs threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jason Croom with 1:52 remaining and delivered a two-point conversion on a quarterback keeper. Tennessee then rested its hopes on an onside kick.
Tennessee recovered its first attempt, but an offside penalty forced the Vols to kick again. Although Tennessee's Justin Coleman recovered the next kick, officials ruled the Vols had touched the ball before it went the required 10 yards.
Missouri won by containing a Tennessee offense that had averaged 47.5 points per game in Dobbs' two previous starts. Missouri had six sacks and kept Tennessee's offense out of the end zone until the final 2 minutes. The Volunteers' only touchdown before that came when holder Patrick Ashford threw a 31-yard pass to Alex Ellis on a fake field goal.
"We felt going in we had to get after Josh Dobbs to win this game," said Missouri defensive end Markus Golden, who had two sacks. "That's exactly what was on our mind."
Dobbs was 24 of 37 for 195 yards with a touchdown and interception, while Mauk went 12 of 25 for 230 yards. Murphy ran for 82 yards on 19 carries to help Missouri outrush Tennessee 180-53.
"I'd definitely say that's the best defense we've played (against)," Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd said.
Tennessee was missing leading tackler A.J. Johnson and cornerback Michael Williams, who were suspended from all team-related activities Monday, one day before both were named as subjects of an ongoing rape investigation in which no charges have been filed.
The Vols also didn't have injured center Mack Crowder and receiver Marquez North. They played the first half without safety Brian Randolph, who had committed a targeting penalty in a 50-16 victory over Kentucky last week.
All those absences tested Tennessee's depth to the point that the Vols started seven true freshmen. Never before had Tennessee started that many true freshmen in one game.
Tennessee still seemed on the verge of tying the game or taking the lead early in the fourth quarter.
"This is a resilient group of kids," Jones said.
The Tigers were clinging to a 16-13 advantage when a pass-interference penalty gave Tennessee a first down at the Missouri 29. But on the next play, Dobbs threw a pass that bounced off the hands of wide receiver Josh Malone and was picked off by Kenya Dennis at the Missouri 20.
Three plays later, Mauk threw a deep pass to Hunt, who beat Coleman to catch the ball inside the Tennessee 40, then stiff-armed cornerback Cam Sutton inside the 25 before heading into the end zone. The touchdown extended Missouri's lead to 23-13 with 10:42 remaining.
Mauk capped Missouri's next drive by finding Sasser in the left corner of the end zone with 6:22 left.
"I'm very, very proud of our football team," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "We've got a quick week, short week. We've got a big game on Friday."