Tennessee (2-4, 1-2 SEC) defeated Mississippi State (3-3, 1-2 SEC) 20-10 in Neyland Stadium on Saturday in a defense-heavy matchup.
It was a cool day in Neyland, but the Volunteer defense came out red hot in the first half.
The Vols got a three-and-out on Mississippi State’s first drive. However, the Bulldogs got the ball back after Brian Maurer threw a ball into coverage in the end zone which was picked off.
The Vols got another chance following a second three-and-out, and Tim Jordan cashed in with a 15-yard scoring rush up the middle. After Brent Cimaglia’s extra point, Tennessee was up 7-0.
Mississippi State was able to put together a drive on their third possession, but Tommy Stevens overthrew his target. Additionally, Kenneth George was in perfect position for the interception.
Jace Christmann was able to cut into Tennessee’s lead in the second quarter. His 51-yard field goal bounced off the crossbar and made it a 7-3 game.
Maurer threw his second end zone pick of the day on the ensuing drive. However, the Vol defense created another turnover when Trevon Flowers picked off Stevens’ pass in the middle of the field.
Flowers’ pick set up a 49-yard field goal that Cimaglia knocked through to put Tennessee up 10-3 as the first half came to a close.
Cimaglia then put the first points of the second half on the board with a 22-yard field goal to extend Tennessee’s lead to 13-3.
On the next drive, Nigel Warrior took a Garret Shrader pass away from a Bulldog receiver for Mississippi State’s third turnover of the game.
“I’m actually surprised he threw it,” Warrior said. “I look back and I see a brown spot in the air, and I said ‘the only brown spot I know is the ball.’”
After a lifeless third quarter, Mississippi State found a spark in the fourth when Shrader found Deddrick Thomas in the end zone for a 17-yard scoring strike to make it 13-10 Tennessee after Christmann’s kick.
However, Tennessee quickly extinguished the spark with a long drive that ended in a 39-yard touchdown pass from Jarrett Guarantano to Tyler Byrd that gave Tennessee a 20-10 lead.
Mississippi State drove down the field, but the comeback attempt failed when Christmann missed a 36-yard field goal.
The Vols kneeled the clock out and secured the 20-10 victory.
The Tennessee defense played their best game of the season, racking up three interceptions and seven sacks while limiting Mississippi State to 267 total yards on the day.
“We got some turnovers in the back end, which was big today,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said in the post-game press conference. “I think early in the game we affected the quarterback.”
Vol linebacker Darrell Taylor said the defensive effort began in practice.
“We were doing it all week in practice, stopping the run and getting turnovers,” Taylor said.
Maurer was knocked out of the game with a concussion, but Guarantano played well in backup duty.
“[Guarantano] just stayed ready,” Byrd said. “I’m just glad he was able to create something.”
Pruitt discussed how the Vols were able to stay the course on offense and rely on the defense once Maurer was knocked out of the game:
“We ran the same stuff. You have to sometimes call a game based off the scoreboard,” Pruitt said. “Our defense was playing pretty good. We didn’t want to make a mistake.”
Next Saturday, Tennessee will face No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Kickoff is slated for 9 p.m. EST and will be aired on ESPN.
Featured image by Ben Gleason
Edited by Ben Gleason and Ciera Noe