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It’s November, The Vols Are 2-0

As the clock was ticking towards zero on Saturday night in Neyland Stadium, Tennessee players were anxiously awaiting the chance to head towards the student section. 

“Rocky Top” was being played and the Vols were soaking in a very big win over No. 11 Kentucky, one that looked even bigger outside the southeast.

A big performance in which Jeremy Pruitt challenged his players with during the week. “We challenged our players this week that we wanted to have the most rushing yards, and I think we did. I thought for the first time, we had a little bit of physicality for the entire game”. 

Here are my takeaways from the dominating 24-7 victory for the Volunteers:

  1. Tennessee opened up the outside. 

The Vols decided very early to test Kentucky deep, one play into the game early, forcing a pass interference call that, in my opinion, set the tone with the game plan. Tennessee took advantage of the downfield opportunities Kentucky gave them, picking up 20+ yards on seven different plays. When Tennessee decides to use their weapons like Marquez Callaway, Jauan Jennings, Ty Chandler or Josh Palmer on the outside, good things usually happen. 

Pruitt talked postgame on the aggressiveness in the passing game. “It really starts with our game plan. Our offensive coaches did a really good job early in the week and knew what they wanted to do. I think our kids did a really good job executing better protection” 

  1. Jarrett Guarantano Commands The Offense 

The fact Guarantano has stood in the pocket and taken huge hits all season and not been out extended periods of time is nothing short of miraculous, but through it all his efficiency has been tremendous. It showed on Saturday night as he broke a Tennessee school record of most completions (144) without an interception. 

His leadership showed last night, so did the game plan from a lackluster performance against Charlotte. “The whole week the team felt very confident going into this game. I know we struggled last week, but this week was different. We had good practices getting after each other on Tuesday and Wednesday, and I thought we had a lot of confidence in the locker room despite last week. I thought we were ready for this week.”

Guarantano told the media after the game in which he finished 12-20 for 197 yards and 2 touchdowns, that he mentioned to Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen “there was no hit that was going to take me out”. 

If that doesn’t tell you that he’s growing up and becoming a leader for this team, I don’t know what will. The QB still has many things to work on, but heart isn’t one of them. At least he’s got himself a tight end in Dominick Wood-Anderson to count on. “I think he has gotten better every week with how much the coaches are on him.”

  1. The Running Game and OLine Stood Out

This offensive line has taken a lot of hits on and off the field this season. That didn’t detour them from setting the tone in the trenches on Saturday night. Tennessee RBs had themselves a gritty night on the ground, rushing for a combined 215 yards against a fantastic Kentucky front-seven. After all of the rotating these guys have been through, I imagine it was a very satisfying night. 

It’s obvious to see that RB Tim Jordan has bought into the tough practices. “I feel like every day at practice he (Pruitt) keeps preaching to me hitting the holes and finding the gaps. I feel like as the season goes on, I’m getting a hold of it and continuing to work at it.” 15 carries, 63 yards and a TD later, I would have to agree. 

Jordan Murphy got in on the action, taking an end-around 59 yards that setup a crucial Tennessee touchdown. Chandler was a very pivotal player to get back this weekend, as Jeremy Banks was sidelined with an ankle injury. Chandler rushed for 89 yards and continued to show his elusiveness out of the backfield. 


  1. The Defensive Line Wreaks Havoc

As Tennessee continued to shut down the highly-touted Kentucky rushing attack of Benny Snell (20 carries for 81 yards), it was the pass rush that stood out most. Terry Wilson didn’t seem comfortable behind his O-Line, thanks in large part to Vols OLB Darrell Taylor. He had four sacks on the day.

Taylor said, “I think it’s just going through practice, making sure that I’m sound in watching the ball, I’m sound in my get off, making sure I’m using my speed to my abilities.”

Vols LB Daniel Bituli said it best concerning the defensive performance. “We were just flying around, being really aggressive the whole game. The coaches emphasized all week [that] we have to play a good 60 minutes and we did it. We’ve played 30 minutes, 40 minutes of a game, but we really haven’t played a whole game to our standard, so I feel like today we did that.”

Overall, it was a performance last night that has been building as this team continues to improve on a weekly basis. If you are a Tennessee coach, you have to be pleased with the execution and different guys that are stepping up each week. 

  1. The Bowl Aspirations Are Alive

Coming into the Kentucky game, the Vols needed to win 2/3 games to secure a bowl berth. Well, one game down and two chances to go. 

As Pruitt said postgame, “So we’re 2-0 in November, and that’s a good thing. I think our guys have been working hard to do it. We’re going to enjoy this win, and tomorrow we’ll get up and go back to work. There’s a lot of football to be played.” He definitely understands how beneficial it would be practicing in December. They could possibly have a few practices in Florida.

I spoke with someone involved with the Gator Bowl last night who told me “We are definitely keeping an eye on Tennessee now, if they get to seven wins it could get interesting.” Either way, this team needs to grab one more win to be secured. If they actually get two more wins, they could be playing somewhere else besides Memphis or Birmingham. 

This Tennessee team is different, they’ve bought into the coaching staff and continue to get better each week.

I think Jordan summed it up well: “Coach (Pruitt) was telling us all week that we need to go undefeated in November and keep improving from this point, so we got the win as a team and hope to keep growing and developing.”

Buckle up Tennessee fans, these next two weeks will be wild. Nothing you guys can’t handle. 

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