Tennessee overcame a plethora of injuries to get back in the win column after a 24-10 win over Southern Miss on homecoming at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night, improving the Vols to 4-5 on the season. Here’s three things we learned from Tennessee snapping its four-game losing streak.
THE VOLS’ INJURY WOES REACHED ITS PEAK
Almost every team in college football is going to face attrition through injuries over the course of a physical, grueling season —that’s just the ways things go in FBS football. But, my goodness, what Tennessee has went through on the injury front going back to last season can only be described as *ludicrous.*
Second year in a row, Vols injury situation has reached Monty Python levels of absurdity. Whoever is the coach in '18 must solve this issue. pic.twitter.com/uwcHAFYxn4
— Jesse Simonton (@JesseReSimonton) November 5, 2017
Tennessee already came into Saturday’s contest with a patchwork offensive line. Then, the Vols proceeded to take hits to their depth everywhere else over the course of the game. Starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano suffered what appeared to be an ankle injury and missed the the second half, receiver Marquez Callaway left the game with a leg injury after falling hard onto the field and kick returner Evan Berry exited with an upper body injury.
Back on the offensive line, Coleman Thomas had to briefly exit the game, thus forcing true freshman Riley Locklear to have his redshirt burned as he entered the game in relief. All of this added on to the Vols not having offensive lineman Drew Richmond (unspecified) and defensive back Shawn Shamburger (lower extremity injury) available as they were announced out before kickoff.
With three regular season games remaining — all SEC matchups — the Vols will have to rely on young and sparsely-used talent to succeed in their attempt to get a bowl bid.
WILL MCBRIDE TAKES HIS SHIRT OFF
Not literally, because that would be weird — but, due to the aforementioned injury to Guarantano, the true freshman from League City, Texas, had his redshirt burned late in the second quarter.
McBride was initially only in for three plays before Guarantano came back in to finish out the half. However, Guarantano would stay off the field after halftime and McBride commanded the offense the rest of the way.
McBride didn’t light the world on fire while Tennessee was on offense, but he didn’t lose control, either. He only went 1 for 8 for 13 yards in the game, but didn’t get much help from a few dropped passes and the makeshift offensive line.
In the sample size we got to see from McBride, he showed poised, an ability to scramble for yards and good arm strength —something he displayed a would-be 35-yard touchdown to Josh Palmer on an overthrow in his first pass attempt. He also excelled in the most important stat: making mama proud.
I am speechless!!! pic.twitter.com/4N3NVX1sI3
— Stephanie McBride (@smcbride_) November 5, 2017
Seriously. I am not speechless. I am screaming my head off!! pic.twitter.com/91d4pdB1qW
— Stephanie McBride (@smcbride_) November 5, 2017
After the game, Butch Jones said that he expects Guarantano to be ready to go next week against Missouri, but with the persistent offensive line issues, it’s not a given that we haven’t seen the last of McBride this season.
DEFENSE BREATHES LIFE INTO THE OFFENSE
Outside of allowing a 70-yard pass on a 3rd-and-18 and a 95-yard touchdown drive near the end of the game, Tennessee’s defense did an excellent job of not letting the Golden Eagles get much going on offense.
The Vols did not give Southern Miss’s mobile quarterback Keon Howard much breathing room, as he was sacked twice and held to 29 yards on the ground. Bob Shoop’s unit combined that performance to hold Howard to just seven completions for 100 yards passing, too.
Tennessee also kept one of the most underrated rushers in the country, Ito Smith, in check — he only gained 51 yards on 20 carries and didn’t have a run longer than seven yards.
Kyle Phillips and Darrell Taylor had two sacks apiece, while Rashaan Gaulden and Colton Jumper were all over the field, combining for 16 total tackles and three tackles for loss.
However, after its first opening-drive touchdown of the season, Tennessee’s offense (plagued by injuries and its offensive line) was stagnant throughout most of the first half.
In the second half, though, the Vols were able to take advantage of short fields brought on by an Emmanuel Moseley interception and a Darrell Taylor strip-sack on consecutive possessions, scoring 14 points off the turnovers.
Tennessee’s defense stepped up and gave enough opportunities for its offense to help the team pull away. It needed all the help it could get, too. The Vols only produced 210 yards of total offense, went 2-of-13 on third down and failed to convert an early fourth-and-short attempt.
If Tennessee wants to finish out its SEC schedule strong and end a rough season on a positive note, it may be mainly riding on the defense.