The Tennessee Volunteers (2-0) ran all over the Missouri Tigers (0-2) in a 35-12 win on Saturday.
Georgia transfer Cade Mays was recently cleared to play, and the right tackle lined up alongside Trey Smith, Brandon Kennedy, Jerome Carvin, Wanya Morris and a rotation of other linemen to create a strong offensive line. Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt chose to lean on that strength to open up holes for the Vol running game.
Pruitt said he decided to run the ball against Missouri even when the Tigers elected to stack the box to counter the Volunteer run game.
“We wanted to be able to run the football, and we ran the football probably against bad looks, but that’s OK. Our guys did a good job getting on people and our backs ran hard,” Pruitt said.
Vol running backs Eric Gray and Ty Chandler scored three touchdowns in the first half. The Vols went into halftime with a 21-6 lead after the Vol defense held the Tigers to just two field goals.
Gray and Chandler combined for 195 yards on the ground and two touchdowns on 35 carries, and the Tennessee offense ran the ball a total of 51 times. Missouri running back Larry Rountree III was effective on the ground, accumulating 84 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown, but the game script forced freshman quarterback Connor Bazelak to pass for most of the game.
Bazelak played well after replacing Shawn Robinson early in the game. The freshman completed 61% of his passes for 218 yards, though he also threw a bad pick to Theo Jackson late in the game.
Pruitt said he had to do a better job of coaching his secondary after Bazelak found open receivers in busted Tennessee coverages.
“If you’re going to play in the back end you’ve got to be aggressive and you’ve got to have a short memory. The other team is going to make plays,” Pruitt said.
Vol quarterback Jarrett Guarantano threw for 190 yards and a score, but Guarantano scored twice on the ground on quarterback sneaks. Guarantano’s rushing touchdowns accounted for all of Tennessee’s second-half points, and the 14 points proved enough to secure a 35-12 victory.
In the absence of Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway, who have departed for the NFL, Guarantano has elected to distribute the ball. Four different receivers caught multiple passes in the Vols’ win against the Tigers.
The rising Vols will need their receiving threats to step up next week when they travel to Georgia to face the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs in a prove-it game. The Georgia defense held No. 13 Auburn to just two field goals in a 27-6 victory.
“They’ve got good players, they’ve got good coaches, but we do too. It’s why I came to Tennessee, it’s why these players came to Tennessee, is to play in games like this,” Pruitt said on playing Georgia.
The Vols and the Bulldogs matchup is in Athens at 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 10. It will air on CBS.
Edited by Ryan Sylvia and Gracie-Lee Strange
Featured image courtesy of Andrew Ferguson of Tennessee Athletics and the Chattanooga Times Free Press