The Tennessee Volunteers (2-4, 1-2 SEC) took an early lead and led throughout in a 20-10 win over Mississippi State (3-3, 1-2 SEC) Saturday in Neyland Stadium. Here are a few takeaways from Tennessee’s first SEC victory this season:
Pruitt has a winning record against SEC West teams (for now)
After the Saturday win, Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt’s record against SEC West teams moved to 2-1 since he took the job in 2017. While the winning record against SEC West teams will likely end when Tennessee travels to Tuscaloosa next Saturday, it is still a noteworthy achievement. Prior to last year’s win over Auburn, Tennessee had not beaten an SEC West team since 2010 when the Vols blew out Ole Miss.
Tennessee’s defense answers the bell
Coming into Saturday’s game in Neyland Stadium, Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill was the leading rusher in the SEC, averaging 119.2 yards on the ground per game. However, the Tennessee defense limited Hill to 13 yards rushing on 11 carries.
“Going into the game we felt like we needed to make their quarterbacks beat us and not let this guy (Hill) beat us,” Pruitt said in the post-game press conference. “That’s kind of what we tried to do there, and I think our kids did a nice job of executing the game plan … I think our guys played gap-sound. We shrugged blockers. We changed the line of scrimmage a little bit. We wrapped-up tackled, we gang tackled and made some plays in space.”
Tennessee’s defense also made it hard for the Mississippi State quarterbacks. The Vols tallied seven sacks and forced three interceptions in the win over the Bulldogs. Tennessee’s defense has become somewhat of an interception machine lately, generating multiple interceptions in three of its last four games.
Jarrett Guarantano shows the leadership expected of him before the season
After struggling in the first few games, Guarantano was benched in favor of true freshman Brian Maurer. However, Guarantano got a chance to redeem himself when Maurer went out with a concussion late in the first half, and he took advantage of it.
Guarantano led the offense for the duration of the second half and completed 6 of 7 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, he did not turn the ball over.
Guarantano’s performance against Mississippi State mirrored the way he played last year. On Saturday, he was a competent game manager who did enough to win and did not make mistakes that hurt his team.
Prior to this game, Guarantano seemed to have inexplicably taken a step back from last season. The strong performance Saturday could go down as the game he got his mojo back.
Tennessee travels to Tuscaloosa next Saturday for its annual clash with the Alabama Crimson Tide. Kickoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. EDT. The game will be televised on ESPN.
Edited by Christian Knox and Ainsley Kelso
Featured image by Ben Gleason