They say the fastest and most effective way to kill a snake is to cut off the head.
Well, that’s exactly what the Tennessee Volunteers did to the Tennessee-Chattanooga Moccasins on Saturday.
A sharp Jarrett Guarantano and a smothering defense gave the Vols their first win of the season. It was the type of performance this team needed, and the hope is that it will bleed over into next week’s game against the Florida Gators.
The Vols were able to get off to a much-needed, quick start thanks to a 58-yard kick return from Ty Chandler that took the ball all the way to the Chattanooga 41. Six plays later, Chandler punched it in from 13 yards out and Brent Cimaglia nailed the extra point to give the Vols a 7-0 lead with 12:16 left in the first quarter.
A stout defensive performance led to a three-and-out for the Moccasins, but the key play was a blocked punt by Tyler Byrd that Brandon Johnson returned for a touchdown. Just like that, the Vols were up 14-0 after another Cimaglia extra point.
Tennessee continued to pour it on defensively. On the very next drive, Nigel Warrior notched his first interception of the year. He read Chattanooga Nick Tiano all the way, made the interception and returned it to the Moccasins’ 16-yard line.
UTC was able to hold Tennessee to a 3rd-and-6, but Jarrett Guarantano found a wide-open Jauan Jennings in the middle of the end zone for a 12-yard score. Another Cimaglia PAT made it 21-0 less than halfway into the first quarter.
The defense held its own again and even partially blocked the Moccasins’ next punt. The 21-point cushion was enough for Pruitt to bring in freshman quarterback Brian Maurer.
Penalties ruined Maurer’s first drive of his college career. A false start forced the team into a 2nd-and-15 and then an unsportsmanlike penalty on Trey Smith after a third down run by Maurer left the Vols in their first punting situation of the day.
Tiano was able to find some room to run on a 3rd-and-7 and was able to pick up the first down. UTC found themselves in UT territory a couple of plays later, but a 37-yard run from Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks took them down to the Vols’ 8. The eighth straight run of the drive found the Moccasins with a 3rd-and-goal at the Tennessee 1, but a false start pushed them back to the Tennessee 6. Tiano then fumbled the snap and Darrell Taylor recovered, preventing any type of score.
Tennessee put Guarantano back in for the next drive and he immediately found Marquez Callaway to move the sticks on first down. He continued to drive his team down the field and found Callaway again, this time it was a 39-yard throw for a touchdown. Guarantano was money on throw and the Vols were now up 28-0.
Daniel Bituli officially announced his return to the lineup with a nice tackle up the gut to stop the Moccasins’ next third down attempt. Another punt was on the way, giving the Vols a chance to put this one away early in the second quarter.
A nine play, 82-yard drive ended with another play action pass on third down for a touchdown. This time, it was Cedric Tillman who found the middle of the end zone from 28 yards out. The score was now 35-0 and the Vols were rolling with 5:22 left in the first half.
The defense forced another punt. This time, it was J.T. Shrout’s turn at quarterback on offense. He overthrew Romel Keyton, resulting in a Chattanooga interception, but a roughing-the-passer call on Telvin Jones negated the turnover. A miscommunication between he and Johnson left the Vols with a 4th-and-9. Pruitt would decide to go for it instead of punting the ball away and it worked. Shrout found Tillman for a short gain, but Tillman was able to break several tackles and get the first down.
Shrout couldn’t get the team into the end zone, but Cimaglia hit his tenth straight field goal - a 34-yarder - and the Vols led 38-0 with :41 seconds left in the half.
The onslaught continued right out of the gate after halftime. A bad snap to the punter allowed the Vols to take over at the UTC 33. Maurer was back in at quarterback for this drive, pretty much signaling the end of Guarantano’s day.
UT made it look easy, driving 33 yards in three plays. Maurer showed off his athleticism by scampering into the end zone from six yards out for the Vols’ sixth touchdown of the day. They now led 45-0 early in the third quarter.
Tiano was able to drive UTC into Tennessee territory after finding Lameric Tucker on a nice 15-yard pass to convert a third down, but the Moccasin quarterback and his offense were ultimately faced with a 4th-and-3 from the Tennessee 26. A quick swing pass to Bryce Nunnelly in the flat was enough to convert and UTC would remain on the move.
The Moccasins found themselves in another fourth down situation. This time it was from the Vols’ 13, but they weren’t able to convert. Tennessee took over on downs, looking for another score.
Maurer was the man again, but he and the offense went three-and-out, leaving Joe Doyle to punt from deep in his own territory.
UTC decided to bring in Drayton Arnold at quarterback, but things went south quickly as Jeremy Banks picked off his second pass attempt of the drive. It took just four plays for Arnold and the offense to turn it over and the Vols would start on offense deep in UTC territory, again.
Shrout was back in at quarterback, couldn’t convert a 4th-and-4, leaving the Vols to punt.
Neither team got anything done until late in the fourth quarter when the Moccasins found themselves at the UT 12. It looked like they had their first score of the day when Henderson made an sick, one-handed grab for a touchdown, but it was called back due to an offensive pass interference call on Henderson himself. The penalty was enough to prevent the Moccasins from scoring, preserving the shutout.
Tennessee would go on to win, 45-0. It marks the first win of the season for Pruitt and the Vols after two devastating losses to open the season.
The Vols travel to Gainesville next Saturday to take on the Gators in The Swamp. It will be another early kickoff, as the action is set to begin at 12PM EST.