After a long wait, Tennessee finally took the field inside Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon. After the Vols left Columbia last weekend, you had to cross your fingers. Everything went well in terms of Covid to even get here.
But they finally did. The Vols took to the empty field, as the band played Rocky Top from the South end zone, while 23,385 fans stood to their feet, trying to make enough noise.
Recently eligible Cade Mays got the start at right tackle for the Vols, imposing his will, early and often. It was interesting to watch this group line up and try to punch it down, Missouri’s throat. With Jahmir Johnson and Shawn Shamburger out today, the Vols would need some veterans.
This had Jarrett Guarantano written all over it. Control the game by controlling the clock. It wasn’t long before we saw Guarantano lining up for QB sneaks, something we’d see 2 more times on 4th down. By the way, Tennessee was 3-3 on 4th downs in the first half. It was becoming easy.
In the first quarter alone, Tennessee outgained Missouri 167-13 yards. I mean, Guarantano had 107 of those yards, with some beautiful passes to Palmer and Hyatt, this ended with a Vols TD to close the half.
This was a tough Tennessee team, trying to not give Missouri the edge on offense, with Baron, Roman, Deandre, and Kivon putting pressure from the edge.
You couldn’t have asked for a better first half from the Vols. Three TD’s gave Tennessee the momentum they needed to show up defensively as well. Usually, it’s the defense bailing out the offense, but not just yet. The Vols have put together some fantastic drives this season, and the play of Guarantano shouldn’t be the biggest shocker,
Eric Gray and Ty Chandler knew they had a very good offensive line to run behind, maybe the best in the SEC. So, when Chandler asked for it, he received it. The same can be said about Eric Gray, who had himself another big day in the SEC. Eric and Ty had over 149 yards In the 1st half.
If you thought the 2nd half would be much different, Tennessee surely disappointed you.
This group continued pushing the right buttons of defense, which led to even more from the Tennessee offense. Theo Jackson intercepted a ball from Missouri QB Connor Bazelak that sent the momentum straight back into the Vols bench. Jackson had the return that set up the Jarrett Guarantano rushing touchdown.
It was just that kind of day for Tennessee. Every single time you saw Missouri start pulling the Vols In a little close, Tennessee would stretch it right back out, either on the ground or in the air.
Jarrett Guarantano seemed very composed in the pocket, definitely more relaxed. It’s not hard to recognize how much comfort he takes in having a veteran OL and RB group. He was able to hit his receivers in stride, especially when Missouri went “Man to Man” on defense. It allowed Tennessee to stretch the field, and Guarantano took full advantage of it.
Tennessee was 4-4 on 4th down today. Jeremy Pruitt was asked how they approached that philosophy today.
“We’re not gonna play with fear, and we’re not gonna coach with fear.”
If you haven’t figured it out yet, Tennessee isn’t taking any opportunity for granted. They’ve got to be able to understand the magnitude of getting six over three, which was on display today.
“We kind of controlled the line of scrimmage in the run game, but there were too many licks on the QB,” as Jeremy Pruitt discussed postgame.
Yes, there were times the offensive line gave up a few “licks,” but that didn’t stop them from rotating and trying to find the right group. It’s understandable, a good chunk of the offensive line has been out for Fall camp and practice leading up to the Gamecocks.
So, when you come out and run for 232 yards and multiple touchdowns, you have to find the right group that put it together, which I think they did.
This is a Tennessee team that is just now finding their groove and still have a ways to go. Having a full team that is able to practice, I don’t think that can be overstated. It is going to take a bit of time for this group to play cohesive football, play in, and play out.
But, if you perform along your lines like you did today. Protect your QB like you did today and run the football like you did today. Then, I expect more wins like they had today.