The Tennessee Volunteers advanced to 2-4 on the season following a 20-10 win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday. The victory was also the Vol’s first SEC win on the season following losses to Florida and Georgia. The game was a run-heavy, defensive battle that wasn’t clenched until a late fourth-quarter touchdown pass by Jarrett Guarantano.
Run, Run, Run
Jim Chaney completely changed his game-plan against Mississippi State. The Vol’s offense had just 14 pass attempts while running the ball 44 times. That wasn’t the only difference on Saturday. Junior Tim Jordan received the majority of the carries with 19 followed by Ty Chandler who had 16. The Vols totaled nearly 200 rushing yards and over four yards per carry. Coach Jeremy Pruitt has been known to have a “run-first” philosophy. However, that mindset had not come to fruition in recent weeks as their run game, along with the entire offense, had struggled. The coaching staff made it a priority to establish the run game for the entire four quarters.
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The heavy run game aided Tennessee in a few ways against Mississippi State. It allowed the Vols to take the pressure of the Tennessee passing game led by Brian Maurer and Guarantano. By running the ball, it allowed the offense to implement an effective play-action and force the Bulldog defense to keep their eyes in the backfield. The successful run game also allowed Tennessee to manage the clock, especially late in the game. With Mississippi State’s inability to stop Jordan and Chandler at the line of scrimmage, Tennessee was able to keep the clock running while moving the ball down the field.
Maurer’s Second Start
Maurer’s statistics do not necessarily reflect his success against Mississippi State. Before leaving the game with an upper-body injury, Maurer had 61 yards on four completions and 41 rush yards on three attempts along with two interceptions. The true freshman quarterback failed to impress as he did against Georgia last week but he managed to make enough plays to allow his offense to continue to move the ball and pick up first downs. Both of Maurer’s turnovers were products of limited experience and a “gunslinger” mentality that the quarterback is known for.
Early in the week, Pruitt said that he expected Maurer to be available to play against rival Alabama. With an injury-plagued roster and facing the number one team in the nation, it would be no surprise if the coaching staff gave the start to Guarantano to avoid the risk of any additional injuries to Maurer.
Leading the Way
The most pivotal part of Saturday’s game was the offensive and defensive lines. The key to any success on offense starts with the offensive line. The line was led by veteran Trey Smith and freshman Wanya Morris. Throughout the game, Smith and Morris showed why they were the top offensive linemen in their recruiting classes. From opening week through this past week, the offensive line has seen the most consistent improvement from week to week. With Alabama on the horizon, the line will face its biggest test of the entire season.
Tennessee’s defense, as a whole, played a phenomenal game. With seven sacks, 10 tackles for loss, three interceptions and only 10 points allowed, it would be hard to ask for any more from a defense. Their success began with their front seven that sacked the quarterback seven times including two by Darrell Taylor. They also held the SEC’s leading rusher, Kylin Hill, to 11 carries for 13 yards. Following the Vols’ most impressive performance of the season, they must carry the success into Tuscaloosa on Saturday if they want to have any shot on coming out with a victory.
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The third Saturday in October is upon us. Tennessee travels to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday as they face the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Vols opened the week as 35 point underdogs against the number one team in the country. If the Vols were to pull out a win, it would be one of the biggest victories in recent memory for Tennessee. The Volunteers enter the game on a 12-game losing streak against the Tide including three straight losses by at least 37 points. Alabama has allowed nearly 28 points per game against their SEC opponents. If Tennessee’s offense can find a way to reach the end zone and their defense can continue to dominate as they did against the Bulldogs, the Vols would have a long-shot chance of pulling off the massive upset. An upset is very unlikely but there have been crazier things happen in SEC rivalry games.
Prediction: Alabama 49, Tennessee 17