As the Missouri defense battled injuries in the secondary, Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano unleashed the game of his career Saturday night at Faurot Field.

Completing 23 of 40 passes for 415 yards and two touchdowns, Guarantano led the Volunteers past the Tigers 24-20.

“We had some fun out here today,” Guarantano said. “Coming into the game we knew that Missouri was a top-10 defense and that they had some things that we could work on, and the bye week really helped us out a lot."

Missouri starting cornerback DeMarkus Acy didn't play on his senior night with a hamstring injury. Jarvis Ware, the Tigers' other starting cornerback, suffered a head/neck injury making an aggressive tackle in the first quarter and didn’t return.

“It’s probably like the rest of us when we don't have one of our better players playing,” said Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt, who reached the bowl-eligibility threshold Saturday for the first time in his tenure.

Acy and Ware’s absence on the field was noticeable, especially when the Tigers surrendered two late third-down conversions as Tennessee ran out the clock.

Pruitt gave credit to Guarantano for getting the Vols in the right place to move the chains on pressure plays. They finished 9 of 16 on third downs.

Missouri head coach Barry Odom admitted missing both Acy and Ware opened the door to the Volunteers' success in the passing game.

“I think that had a lot to do with it, but also some of the three-deep zone stuff,” Odom said. “We didn't re-route underneath well enough with free releases and just overlapped it. In the zone, the vacated area, you run coverage and there are a number of things that go into running the coverage in your zone responsibility.

“We’ve got to get a re-route to try to help the guy out in the vertical pass game, and we didn't do that."

Odom continued: “We lost one-on-one battles in jump-ball situations. A number of things. Credit to (Tennessee), No. 1. And then we didn't play very well against the pass, and also Ware goes out early and Acy wasn't able to play. Unfortunately the injury part of the game put things on display that we couldn't get covered up.”

Junior safety Tyree Gillespie said it was tough not having Acy or Ware available but that it's something the defense needs to be prepared for.

“Once a player goes down, the next player has to step up,” said Gillespie, who finished with five tackles. “I wish we could have came out with a W, but we didn't. It hurts a lot, it hurts the whole team, and we just have to go and get this last game."

The Volunteers made program history with three different receivers each clearing the 100-yard mark in the game. Josh Palmer led all receivers with six catches for 124 yards, while senior Jauan Jennings added five catches for 115 yards and one touchdown. Marquez Callaway had six receptions for 110 yards and one score.

Missouri finished the loss with four pass-interference penalties and had one more nullified because of a Tennessee touchdown despite the infraction.

“I think all three of them knew (it would be) a physical game," Pruitt said of his receiving corps. "They caught balls across the middle. They made all the catches tonight. Missouri is a team that plays a lot of man-to-man. They've done it all year.

"If you look at the scoreboard out there, we scored 24 points. They hadn't given up a whole lot of points all year. That's how they play."

cbowie@boonvilledailynews.com