The huddle grew one by one until the sideline stood bare.
The Tennessee defense needed one stop Saturday. One stop, one time, to end all the pain.
Eleven Vols surrounded coach Derek Dooley. Two more jumped into the pile, urging a defensive stand. Then five more joined. Then 10 more. Twenty.
By the end — with Missouri facing a do-or-die fourth-and-12 and 53 seconds standing between it and a long-suffered-for SEC victory — the entire Tennessee team came together.
Jumping. Hollering. Hopping.
Snap. Touchdown. Silence.
Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, standing on an island by himself in the corner of the end zone, reeled in a 25-yard pass to tie the game.
Four overtimes, three more Missouri touchdowns and one game-winning field goal later, the same Tennessee team that huddled as one, languished off the field in disbelief.
Missouri's 51-48 victory marked another defeat of the Tennessee defense.
Afterward, cornerback Justin Coleman said the Vols' defense returned to the sideline after that fourth-and-12 wondering, "How did we blow this? We could have had the win."
Instead it was another ugly loss with another ugly box score.
Mizzou, ranked 109th nationally in total offense with 319.2 yards per game, gained 454. The biggest problem is that 390 came after halftime. The first half marked the Vols' best defensive performance of the year, holding the Tigers' offense to 64 yards, four first downs and no scores.
And then …
"They started making plays," linebacker A.J. Johnson said plainly.
In overtime, Missouri quarterback James Franklin completed five of six passes and had three touchdowns.
He completed two passes in the entire first half.
The Tigers' offensive comeuppance began right out of the second-half gates. Running back Kendial Lawrence galloped to a 77-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
Last week, despite giving up an obscene 721 yards to Troy, the Vols made stops when it counted late in the game. That earned the win.
There were glimpses of it in the second half Saturday, though they were ultimately fleeting.
After Lawrence's touchdown run, the defense made a play to hold its 21-14 lead. Nose guard Daniel McCullers forced a fumble at UT's 37. Sprinting in behind the play, strong side linebacker LaDarrell McNeil scooped it up and scampered to Missouri's 30.
There was more. The Vols forced a punt after the referees overturned a fourth-and-1 stop at midfield. They held on third-and-6 with less than six minutes to go and the Tigers eyeing the end zone.
With the game on the line, however, those stops were nowhere to be found this time.
"I guess it came down to actually making the play when the ball is thrown in the air," Coleman said. "The receivers made the play and I guess we didn't."
This week saw Dooley center all of his focus on the defensive shortcomings. Coordinator Sal Sunseri spent the game in the press box, looking on from above.
It made no difference.
The UT defense again was left answering for another loss. It hasn't allowed less than 38 points since late September.
"I'm not going to stand here and say it's not hard — it is hard," cornerback Prentiss Waggner said. "We had big expectations coming into this season."
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn