Tennessee had a nice, stress-free afternoon in Neyland Stadium today. The Volunteers beat up on Chattanooga, building a 45-0 lead before pulling all of the starters out. Here’s what we learned and what stood out.
After giving up the long play that set up BYU with a chance to tie the game late last week, sophomore cornerback Alontae Taylor was benched against Chattanooga. Warren Burrell and Kenneth George got the starts at the outside cornerback spot. Bryce Thompson did not play.
Would this happen if Chattanooga wasn’t the opponent today? Probably not, but that’s just a guess. This was the perfect time to deliver a message to Taylor, who has really struggled out of the gates.
One thing to keep in mind here — Thompson could return for the Florida matchup. Will Tennessee go with Thompson and Burrell? Or Thompson and Taylor?
Offensive line shuffle
For the first time this season, Tennessee started two true freshmen on the offensive line on Saturday. Wanya Morris got the go at left tackle, while Darnell Wright started at right guard. K’Rojhn Calbert started at right tackle, while Brandon Kennedy was at center and Trey Smith was at left guard. It was a new combination that saw Marcus Tatum and Riley Locklear head to the bench — at least to start.
The most notable conclusion to draw here is on Wright, who kicked inside today. Is that something we see stick going forward? It’s possible, because the Vols haven’t found an answer at guard opposite of Trey Smith. I’m a big fan of getting your best five lineman on the field at once, this is a way to accomplish that.
Tennessee made up for lost time today, creating five turnovers today against Chattanooga. Jeremy Banks was an unexpected star of this one, grabbing two interceptions playing as a reserve linebacker. Kenney Solomon and Nigel Warrior each added another interception, bringing the total on the day to four.
The Vols also forced a fumble on the goal line in the first half as Chattanooga was trying to punch a drive into the endzone.
Elsewhere, a blocked punt had the Volunteers off and running in the first quarter as receiver Brandon Johnson scooped and scored the block from Tyler Byrd.
Brian Maurer’s debut
Tennessee’s true freshman quarterback was the first passer off the bench today. Maurer came in with a 21-0 lead in the first quarter — only to go three and out thanks to a couple of penalties. He scrambled on third down of the series, but fell short of the sticks.
He was then the first quarterback to enter the game in the second half, starting a drive at the Chattanooga 25. Maurer didn’t have much work left to do after a run by Tim Jordan had the Vols sitting pretty. The freshman quarterback took a called sweep to the left, getting around the corner for six.
Maurer actually didn’t throw a pass until his third drive of the game, playing with a host of backups. He delivered a really nice looking deep ball to Ramel Keyton, but Keyton was unable to make the play over the coverage.
I would have liked to have seen more passing from Maurer, who was only given two passing attempts on the day. It’s tough to evaluate anyone based on that.
JT Shrout struggles
Shrout’s day began with a bail-out. The redshirt freshman fired a fastball over the middle that went off his receiver’s hands only to be picked off. Luckily for Shrout, he was saved by a roughing the passer call.
Shrout came back and slowly settled in a little bit after a few miscommunications. He was able to find Cedric Tillman underneath to convert on 4th and 9, keeping his first drive alive. Shrout was unable to find Jacob Warren down the seam who was open for a touchdown, which forced a field goal attempt.
The former three-star recruit out of California lacked some touch and feel today in the offense, which obviously comes from more experience.
Shrout finished 3-9 for 23 yards.
Jarrett Guarantano solid
As expected, Guarantano was easily Tennessee’s best passer today. After a rough outing against BYU, Guarantano had an easy yet productive Saturday against the Mocs. He ended up throwing three touchdowns on just eight attempts.
Guarantano completed seven of eight passes in total, throwing for 142 yards before giving way to the backups. The redshirt junior passer’s lone incompletion was on his first attempt of the day — a pass that could have easily been picked off, as Pruitt pointed out. His touchdown pass to Cedric Tillman was also a tick late, just beating a safety who was closing in over the middle.
It wasn’t a perfect day, but any question about whether or not he’s the best option right now is squashed. We’ll see if he built any confidence heading into the Florida matchup.