The Tennessee Volunteers (4-5, 2-3 SEC) faced the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers (6-2, 3-1 CUSA) in Neyland on Saturday, and the Vols came out on top 30-7.
A week after getting burned for a 75-yard touchdown, the Tennessee defense opened this week’s game with a pick by Bryce Thompson on the first play.
However, the Vol football offense could not do much with the opportunity, and their first drive ended in a 36-yard Bent Cimaglia field goal.
Later in the quarter, Cimaglia knocked another one through, this time from 48-yards out, to put the Vols up 6-0.
UAB quarterback Tyler Johnson III made another poor throw that resulted in a Thompson interception early in the second quarter
“It was perfect play-calling,” Thompson said at the postgame press conference. “This is my first time actually getting more than one pick in a game.”
Still unable to move the ball on offense, Tennessee settled for a 53-yard field goal by Cimaglia. The field goal that put Tennessee up 9-0 was Tennessee’s longest since 1995.
“[Cimaglia] has talent,” Pruitt said at the postgame press conference. “The thing that I like about him is he could play middle linebacker … I think he’s got a really good makeup about him.”
Tennessee then got the ball right back when Johnson III fumbled on an option play, and this time Ty Chandler was able to cash in with an 11-yard scoring rush. Cimaglia’s first PAT of the night then put the Vols up 16-0.
Thompson’s third pick of the half was turned into points when Jauan Jennings scored on a 2-yard touchdown run.
“[Bryce Thomspon] really just did what he was supposed to do,” Pruitt said. “He’s a tough kid that really wants to play, that likes to play.”
Up 23-0, the Vols had a chance to pile on at the end of the half, but Jarrett Guarantano was picked off by Dy’jonn Turner in the end zone.
Both teams were unable to get anything going on offense after halftime until Tennessee put together a drive late in the third quarter.
Guarantano connected with Eric Gray on a 13-yard pass and extended Tennessee’s lead to 30-0.
On the Blazers’ last drive, Dylan Hopkins found Lucious Stanley for a 15-yard touchdown that made the final score 30-7.
Ultimately, Johnson’s four first-half turnovers allowed Tennessee to jump out to an early lead before the Vols coasted to an easy victory in the second half.
“When they make mistakes we gotta make them pay, and we did tonight,” Pruitt said.
Though Tennessee was tough against the Blazers defensively, the Tennessee offense struggled at times.
“You can see why they’re one of the top-ranked defenses in the country,” Pruitt said.
With Brian Maurer out, J.T. Shrout and Jarrett Guarantano were switched out throughout the game. While Guarantano threw for 147 yards, a touchdown and a pick, Shrout played somewhat poorly and completed just 50% of his passes for 34 yards.
“[Guarantano] had surgery on Sunday,” Pruitt said. “If J.T. doesn’t run across the field and throw it across his body, he might have kept playing. … we worked Brian to be ready to play, but with three quarterbacks it was hard to get Brian as many reps as he needed.”
However, it matters less who is in at quarterback when Tennessee’s defense plays as well as they have played over the last few games.
“[The defense] made huge strides coming together and really knowing what we’re supposed to do on the field,” linebacker Henry To’o To’o said.
Next up Tennessee will travel to Kentucky to play the Wildcats on Nov. 9. Kickoff in Lexington is slated for 7:30 p.m. EST and can be viewed on the SEC Network.
Edited by Ben Gleason and Ainsley Kelso
Featured photo courtesy of Ben Gleason