Tennessee earned its first SEC win of 2019 today against Mississippi State, beating the Bulldogs 20-10 at Neyland Stadium. The Vols got off to a hot start, dominating the game early. Turnovers kept it close, until Jarrett Guarantano and Tyler Byrd delivered the final blow.
Here’s what stood out from a happy day on Rocky Top.
Guarantano bounces back
Directly after Brian Maurer’s debut against Georgia, Jeremy Pruitt said that there will come a point in time where Tennessee will need Jarrett Guarantano again. Who knew that it would be seven days later?
Maurer was knocked out of this game after landing awkwardly on his head. Guarantano entered in relief and early on, it didn’t look like Jim Chaney was interested in putting much on his plate. Nine straight runs were called after he entered the game as Tennessee tried to nurse its seven point lead.
But there came a point in the game where Tennessee had to put something together. Mississippi State scored to make it a 13-10 game with six minutes left in the fourth quarter. After a series of successful runs, Guarantano converted on third down to Tim Jordan. A couple of plays later, he found a wide open Tyler Byrd, who screamed down the sidelines for the dagger touchdown.
Hats off to Guarantano, who has really been through it this year. When Tennessee needed him, he responded. He finished 6-7 for 106 yards and touchdown. Most importantly, he played well enough to win.
The Tennessee defensive line shows up in a big way
We said that this game would be won in the trenches and that certainly held up today. Tennessee was able to shut down Mississippi State’s rushing attack, limiting Kylin Hill to just 13 yards on 11 carries.
Joe Moorhead ended up starting Tommy Stevens at quarterback, which seemed to limit the Bulldogs in the first half. The move to Garrett Shrader opened some things up in the second half. Shrader ran for 62 yards, but most of that came on scrambles near the end of the game.
The story was this Tennessee front, which dominated Mississippi State’s offensive line all afternoon. Even more than that, Tennessee got constant pressure. Darrell Taylor, Greg Emerson, Darel Middleton and Kivon Bennett were all active today as the Vols completely shut down Joe Moorhead’s attack.
Tennessee totaled seven sacks on the day, forcing three interceptions from Mississippi State quarterbacks.
Brian Maurer giveth — Brian Maurer taketh.
The freshman quarterback stayed aggressive today, leading a few drives to what should have been three touchdowns. Instead, two of them ended in interceptions in the endzone. It was two horrible decisions from Maurer — one into double coverage and another that was late and underthrown into the back of the endzone.
He’ll learn to eat those throws eventually, but that’s what Tennessee has to live with right now. He pretty clearly offers the most upside for the offense, but that upside is going to come with a few mistakes.
Maurer left the game late in the second quarter with a concussion. His status for next week is unknown.
Offensive line finds a spark
It wasn’t a perfect day from the offensive line, but they started to find a groove late in the game. Ty Chandler and Tim Jordan helped salt the game away late, gaining chunks on the final drive ahead of the Byrd touchdown.
After a few weeks with virtually nothing out of the run game, we’ll take this production.
Chandler ran for 63 yards on 16 carries while Jordan gained 65 yards on 19 carries. Brian Maurer added 41 yards early on.
Mississippi State’s run defense ranked just 72nd entering the day. While Tennessee didn’t light it up, they did enough to put the game on ice late. That’s at least a little progress in an important area of the game.