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Tennessee Volunteers vs Auburn Tigers: Final Grades

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All three phases clicked and it resulted in the program’s first conference victory in almost two years.

Tennessee v Auburn
Tennessee’s defense showed up in a big way on Saturday
Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

WHAT. A. GAME.

Yes - it does suck that in the big picture of things - UT fans everywhere rejoiced on Saturday like they just won the national championship after beating Auburn.

But at the same time, who the hell cares?

Any proud fanbase that went through an 11-game conference losing streak would’ve celebrated just as hard as anyone wearing orange last weekend.

An impressive, complete team effort helped get it done on Saturday. From Joe Doyle to Ty Chandler, everyone had their hand in the pot.

Let’s dive into this week’s grades.

Offense

This was by far and away Tennessee’s best offensive performance this season.

And not just the season, but the past couple of years as well.

Jarrett Guarantano set career highs across the board, dropping dime after dime and most importantly - not committing any turnovers.

The offensive line protected pretty well for the most part. They did give up three sacks, but there were also plenty of instances where the blitz was picked up and/or Guarantano was given a clean pocket with plenty of time to operate.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Georgia
Guarantano looked great on Saturday
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The receivers, along with Guarantano, were outstanding. 50/50 balls became more like 90/10 balls in favor of the UT wideouts. Josh Palmer, Marquez Callaway, and Jauan Jennings all had at least one catch of 25 yards or more and all three finished with over 50 receiving yards on the day.

The inside run game, however, was dismal. The Vols found no room outside of two long runs on the first drive of the game. Tennessee constantly put themselves in 2nd-and-long scenarios trying to set up the inside attack and at one point, fans were undoubtedly frustrated with the lack of success on the ground.

Put it this way, Tennessee’s first three runs went for 37 yards. The next 33 carries went for 31 yards.

There were some pre-snap penalties that also hurt the Vols. Those need to be fixed, but that just comes down to coaching and better focus from the players.

In all, it was a near-perfect day for the offense and they should be able to build off this performance as the season wears on.

Final Grade: 3.0 (B)

Defense

With each passing week, this defense continues to improve and it’s exciting to watch.

This was probably the best performance under Jeremy Pruitt. He continues to do wonders with a very limited amount of talent on that side of the ball.

It was a rough start for the defense as they watched the Tigers drive right down the field on a 14 play, 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown. They were able to keep the Vols off balance using quick tempo and the running game to set up the offense.

Things really got rough on the second drive. Auburn was able to get to inside the Tennessee 10 just six plays later. All of a sudden, the Tigers’ offense looked unstoppable and the Vols seemed to be in trouble.

But UT was able to come up with a big stop on 3rd-and-goal from inside the five after Bryce Thompson deflected a pass in the end zone.

That was the turning point for the defense.

The Vols pressured Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham throughout the game and the result was two interceptions and a strip-sack fumble that was returned for a touchdown that pushed the Vols’ lead to double-digits.

Auburn averaged under four yards per carry on the ground, which forced Stidham to carry the offense and that played perfectly into Tennessee’s hands.

The result was a season-high five sacks and three forced turnovers. The Tigers finished 9/16 on third down and converted 50% (1 of 2) of their fourth down attempts.

The third down number is a bit misleading, however. The Tigers started 6/8 on the money down - which is never good - but crashed down the stretch, converting just three more attempts the rest of the game.

The Vols still gave up over 400 yards of offense and 24 points, but it was a consistent, effective performance.

If this unit continues to progress the way that they have, then this team should be very competitive down the stretch.

Final Grade: 3.0 (B)

Special Teams

Damn, this unit rocked it on Saturday.

Outside of a blocked field goal attempt, the Vols’ special teams unit had a major hand in Saturday’s victory.

Punter Joe Doyle consistently put the Tigers in bad field position. He pinned them inside their own ten twice and since the defense was able to play the field-position advantage, the end result was two field goals would be the difference in the game.

Brent Cimaglia continues to be one of the more consistent place kickers in recent memory. He’d still be perfect on the season if it weren’t for the block.

The coverage unit played well and the special teams unit showed why this phase of the game is still as important as it’s ever been.

Final Grade: 3.5 (B+)

Coaching

This is one of the easier coaching grades I’ve ever given out.

Pruitt and his staff took every extra second given to them over the bye week to make sure they had a solid, sound, and effective game plan to help them notch their first SEC win since 2016.

There was really only one glaring issue coaching-wise and that was Tyson Helton’s puzzling decision to continue to try and run it up the gut on just about every first down. The result was the same 95% of the time - the Vols would either get stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Auburn
Jeremy Pruitt received his first taste of victory in the SEC
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Other than that, this coaching staff could basically do no wrong Saturday. The players weren’t the only ones who grew up in a big way.

Final Grade: 3.5 (B+)

Overall Grade: 3.25 (B)

Man, you have no idea how good it feels to grade out an SEC matchup that the Vols WON.

All three phases of the game played a near-perfect game, but that’s what it takes to win games in the SEC.

This was a major win for Jeremy Pruitt and the Vols. They certainly have this team moving in the right direction and all of a sudden, the season has excitement once again.

Overall Grade For The 2018 Season: 2.5 (C+)