In Jeremy Pruitt’s first home game as head coach, Tennessee overcame a slow start to hammer the visiting East Tennessee State Buccaneers 59-3 at Neyland Stadium on Saturday. Here are five takeaways from the matchup:
Lightning delay strikes well for Tennessee
Following last week’s weather delay against West Virginia, the Vols allowed the Mountaineers to pour on 27 more points en route to a 40-14 loss.
This week, Tennessee flipped the script.
Leading 10-0 early in the second quarter, the Vols headed to the locker room for a 48-minute lightning delay.
Until that point, Tennessee’s offense had looked mediocre. Granted, it had already netted enough yardage for a field goal, but the lone touchdown came from a blocked punt.
Then came the delay. And after it?
A rejuvenated Tennessee squad.
Coming out of the locker room, Jeremy Banks delivered two solid runs. A pass interference call moved the Vols to their own 48-yard line, and that was all Jarrett Guarantano needed. He uncorked a 51-yard bomb to Marquez Callaway to put Tennessee at the one-yard line, and Banks punched in the Vols’ second touchdown of the game from there.
“Last week was a good lesson for our players,” Pruitt said. “I think our strength staff tried to create a little more juice.”
Pruitt also noted that, even though his team led 10-0 prior to the delay, the score should never affect the Vols’ mindset.
“The expectation shouldn’t change,” he said. “Why should the scoreboard affect the way you play?”
Luckily for Tennessee, it didn’t.
Hello, Bryce Thompson
Against West Virginia, true freshman Bryce Thompson wasn’t able to do much, and Pruitt said he came in this week ready to change that.
“He played with an edge,” Pruitt said of Thompson.
That edge was certainly a sharp one, as Thompson hauled in an interception, made four tackles—with two for losses—and broke up one pass in the Vols’ win.
Special teams make special plays
Following Saturday’s game, Pruitt was simple in his evaluation of the Vols’ playmaking ability.
“We need to be opportunistic,” he said.
And Tennessee was. With 2:49 left in the first quarter, Marquill Osborne raced practically untouched into the backfield, blocked the Buccaneers’ punt at the 15-yard line then picked the ball up inside the 10 before shooting into the end zone for the score.
That block marked the first time since 2013 that Tennessee returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. Last time, Jalen Reeves-Maybin swatted the ball before Devaun Swafford took it to the house.
Running game still a strong point
Against West Virginia, Tim Jordan posted an excellent debut with 20 carries for 118 yards on the ground.
This time around, Jeremy Banks got in on the fun as well, perhaps even surpassing Jordan on the depth chart in the process.
Banks got the call 13 times for 62 yards, and he added two touchdowns in the process. Jordan finished with 15 touches for 65 yards, and Madre London and Josh Palmer finished with eight carries for 47 yards and one carry for 20 yards, respectively.
With quarterback play still a big question for the Vols’ offense, a stable running game and a strong receiving corps should go a long way in aiding what appear to be two quarterbacks vying for both a job and an identity.
Quarterbacks remain a question for Vols
While Jarrett Guarantano certainly appears to be “the guy” for Tyson Helton’s offense, he isn’t one to strike fear in the hearts of opposing defenses, either.
Most of Guarantano’s success so far this season seems to come from solid play by his wide receivers, most notably Josh Palmer and Marquez Callaway. Guarantano finished with eight completions out of 13 attempts with 154 yards through the air, but he also had no touchdowns.
Considering Tennessee won by a 56-point margin, that’s not a good sign for a quarterback that some once referred to as “better than Josh Dobbs.”
Up next: Tennessee takes on the UTEP Miners next Saturday in Neyland Stadium before facing the beginning of its SEC gauntlet in Dan Mullen’s Florida Gators. Kickoff against UTEP is slated for noon next week, and the game can be viewed on the SEC Network.
Featured image by Jake Nichols
Edited by Robert Hughes
Sports editor Jake Nichols has been part of the TNJN staff in two different capacities. His freshman and sophomore years, Jake worked as a staff writer before moving on to write for Rocky Top Insider, and he also worked with VFL Films and the SEC Network for a semester his junior year. When asked the summer before his senior year to return to TNJN as the sports editor, Jake jumped at the chance to end his time in Knoxville working with the organization he first began with as a freshman. Jake is excited to help lead younger writers, much like former editors Cody McClure and Jordan Dajani aided him. Jake also does freelance sports coverage and photography for The Mountain Press in Sevierville, Tenn., and in his spare time, he can be found with family, his girlfriend or driving his Jeep, most likely with his Canon in tow. Be sure and follow Jake on Twitter and Instagram at @jnichols_2121, and keep up with TNJN Sports on Twitter as well!