With its fourth straight win, Tennessee (6-5, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) is bowl eligible for the first time since 2016. Missouri (5-6, 2-5) has lost its last five.
After coming off the bench the previous six games, Guarantano started the game and completed 23 of 40 passes.
“When you play against these guys, the different looks they give you, you’re going to have to check at the line of scrimmage, and he absolutely gives us the best chance to do that,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “And, hey, we’ve got confidence in him. He’s got everything you need to be a good quarterback, and tonight was far and away his best game.”
Tennessee had three players with more than 100 receiving yards, a program first. Josh Palmer had six receptions for 124 yards. Jauan Jennings added five catches for 115 yards and a touchdown, and Marquez Callaway had six catches for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Missouri’s Kelly Bryant completed 16 of 28 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown. Running back Tyler Badie had two touchdown catches, including one from wide receiver Micah Wilson on a trick play.
“They battled, they competed, they fought, and we came up short,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “And I hate it that it resulted in a loss.”
The Tigers cut the Vols’ lead to 24-20 with Tucker McCann’s second field goal with 4:02 left. But the UT defense, led by Daniel Bituli’s 12 tackles and a sack, stopped Missouri on its final drive.
Tennessee outgained Missouri 526-280 and converted 9 of 16 third downs.
Tennessee: After starting the season with home losses to Georgia State and BYU, the Vols clinched bowl eligibility for the first time since 2016. Tennessee’s only losses since those two early defeats came against current Top 10 teams Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
Missouri: The Tigers were 5-1 and ranked 22nd entering their Oct. 19 game at Vanderbilt. A loss to the Commodores began a slide that has led to questions about Odom’s job security. He is 24-25 in four seasons at his alma mater. He has a chance to even his record and secure bowl eligibility against struggling Arkansas.
EARNING THEIR YARDS
Missouri linebacker Nick Bolton briefly knocked Jennings out of the game in the second quarter with a hit near the goal line when Jennings was running the ball as a wildcat quarterback. .... Bolton hit Callaway in the midsection in the second quarter, and Callaway remained on the turf for several minutes before returning a few plays later. ... Missouri safety Tyree Gillespie drilled Palmer in the fourth quarter on a pass over the middle.
Missouri senior cornerback DeMarkus Acy missed the game with a hamstring injury. ... Fellow starting cornerback Jarvis Ware got hurt on the first series and didn’t return. .... Backup cornerback Adam Sparks was shaken in the second half, which led to playing time for true freshman Chris Shearin. ... Missouri’s top receivers, Johnathon Johnson and Albert Okwuegbunam, didn’t play because of shoulder issues.
ON THE REBOUND
Guarantano started the first four games of the season, but he and the team struggled. He broke a bone in his left hand midway through the season, had surgery and played with a brace. He played well off the bench to help the Vols rebound from a 1-4 start.
THEY SAID IT
“There were so many guys who were there for me throughout the death threats, the mean messages to my sister. They were all there for me, and it really meant a lot. There were some hectic times for me, and they were there for me every step of the way, like I was for them in the past. I hope I’m able to pay them back the way I did tonight.” — Guarantano, thanking his teammates after the game
“I’m excited for our players, especially our seniors. When we came in after the Florida game, we’re sitting 1-4, and we said, ‘We’re going to make a bowl. How are we going to do it?’ We had one of those meetings. And those guys backed up what they said they were going to do.” — Pruitt about his Vols becoming bowl-eligible
WAITING FOR FINAL DECISION
Missouri was hit in January with an NCAA postseason ban for academic violations committed before Odom took over as coach, but the school is appealing the ban and the NCAA has yet to rule on the appeal.
Tennessee returns home for its regular-season finale Saturday against Vanderbilt.
Missouri finishes the regular season against Arkansas on Friday in Little Rock.