The Vols traveled to the Plains in Auburn on Saturday night for a matchup under the blinking lights. Once again, the Vols set themselves up for a successful second half. It was one of those songs that plays on repeat, and you can’t figure out how to stop it.
The Vols started Jarrett Guarantano after a week of press conference quotes that would lead you to believe they could try to change things up early on. I am not talking about starting Harrison Bailey; I was more intrigued to see if they’d actually give him a chance. A change of pace was coming in the running game, and the offense would benefit early on.
After Tennessee missed their first field goal attempt of the day, they bounced back on offense to put together a touchdown drive. Guarantano led Tennessee on a nine-play, 80-yard drive that was capped off with a scamper from JG. The Vols were on the board and had a good start.
Bryce Thompson intercepted Bo Nix, his first pick thrown in Jordan-Hare, and the Vols were looking to strike again. After an eight-play, 50-yard drive, the Vols led Auburn 10-0. The Vols started the 2nd quarter with points and wouldn’t see them again until late in the 4th.
Nope, I am not kidding. If you didn’t watch the game, you’d probably be amazed by the stats. Tennessee had just 56 total yards in the 2nd quarter, compared to Auburn’s 158 yards.
Nix hit Anthony Schwartz for a 54-yard touchdown, starting to set up what was to come. Add a field goal, and Auburn had tied the game at 10-10.
But what happened before halftime almost definitely set up the 2nd half. Tennessee had a shot to try for the end zone, with the half coming to an end. As the clock was striking zero, the Vols were just past midfield but decided to just run the clock down. This was the catalyst that led to another abysmal 2nd half.
You would think Tennessee has learned its lesson by now concerning the third quarter of football games. Tonight, they didn’t.
Auburn took advantage of Tennessee’s horrible streak of play. The Tigers added a field goal and then the backbreaker.
Guarantano threw an interception that ended up being returned 100 yards for a touchdown by Smoke Monday. Talk about changing the game on a dime. As Monday ran down the sidelines and to the house, Guarantano kept up from behind.
That sums up the second half for Tennessee football in 2020. The Vols had rushed for 101 yards in the 3rd quarter and had zero points to show for it. That’s unacceptable in any game.
Guarantano was 15-23 for 156 yards and one interception. The biggest performer was Eric Gray, who rushed for 173 yards on 22 attempts, with a touchdown.
Auburn was precise in their play calling and executed that plan in the second half. The way these losses are piling up for Tennessee, it’s very hard to see a clear way out. They look like a completely different team within the first five minutes of the 2nd half.
Guarantano continues to have those moments where you raise your arms and wonder to yourself aloud. The third pick-six of the season was brutal, and it’s hard to work your way back from that. Jeremy Pruitt was asked after the game if he thought Guarantano still gave them the best chance at winning.
“Absolutely, if I didn’t, he wouldn’t be playing.”
Pruitt continued about the offense.
“I was really pleased with our guys’ efforts. Offensively I thought we moved the ball really well, even in both halves. But we gotta come away with touchdowns.”
For a few minutes, it felt like Tennessee was figuring it out in the 2nd half. The Vols drove all the way down to the Auburn 12 before Guarantano threw the pick-six. It was almost like they were trying to keep the dam from cracking, as in continuing to beat themselves.
The mistakes have destroyed Tennessee’s chances of putting together any 2nd half opportunities. The Vols continue to get themselves in such a hole that climbing out is the hardest part.
There aren’t excuses here. Tennessee is just playing bad football. There’s no way I can make that sound any better. If they continue to play like this, a hungry Vanderbilt team will beat them next week in Nashville.
I don’t know what the next steps are, but Pruitt and this staff better figure them out quickly. The players need to figure out how much they want these next three games. Because at the pace we’re at, Tennessee is staring down the barrel of a two-win season.