With its back against the wall and perhaps the entire Jeremy Pruitt experiment on the line, Tennessee was unable to inch itself out of the hole it is now in to start the 2019 season.
Despite 154 yards on the ground from Ty Chandler and another solid game from Jauan Jennings, the Vols were unable to hold on to the lead late, falling to BYU 29-26 in overtime on Saturday.
The loss marks the second on the season and the first time Tennessee has dropped its opening two games since 1988.
Some takeaways from UT's gut-wrenching loss:
Defense falters late
With just 20 seconds to play in regulation and BYU at its own 20-yard line, it seemed as if the Vols were well on their way to closing it out late.
75 yards and less than 15 seconds later, the Cougars had new life.
What could have been a heroic stand late for a much-maligned defensive unit a week ago quickly turned into a disaster, much to the dismay of Tennessee’s head coach.
“(We were in) the one (defensive set) that you don’t let them throw it 75 yards in,” Pruitt said. “There’s 17 seconds left, they have no timeouts and they have to go 60 yards to kick a field goal.”
Jacob Oldroyd’s 33-yard field goal with just one second left in regulation may not have sealed the deal, but it breathed new life into a Cougars team that had struggled with the Vols’ defense up to that point.
For Tennessee, that just means more film study and additional work in practice ahead of Chattanooga next week.
“It hurts, but we know that we don’t want to go through that anymore,” LaTrell Bumphus said. “We’re just going to go back and get corrected on the things that we didn’t do well.”
Chandler’s career game not enough to seal the deal
When a team logs nearly 250 yards on the ground, with over half of them coming courtesy of one player, there’s a good chance it will be the group coming out on top on the scoreboard.
Not Tennessee on Saturday. Not for Chandler.
The Nashville, Tennessee native continuously punished the BYU defense en route to the most prolific rushing total of his career. Unfortunately for the Vols, it was not enough in the end.
With that being said, Tennessee was able to move the ball effectively throughout, something Chandler credited to the play of the offensive line.
“I feel the offensive line did a great job and got great push,” Chandler said. “Overall we were able to move the ball. We had a game plan and tried to execute, but it would have been much better if I could have finished some runs.”
Chandler wasn’t the only running back who brought success to UT”s backfield. Eric Gray tallied 77 yards on 17 carries to supplement the onslaught. Even then, Pruitt feels that the Vols left too many opportunities to close out in regulation on the field.
“We got the ball on the perimeter more and the score indicated more to run the football,” Pruitt said. “We had two chances to put the game away and didn’t.”
Guarantano continues to miss the mark
Despite ending the night with solid numbers, Jarrett Guarantano has been no master in terms of precision and accuracy to start the 2019 season.
Look no further than some of the throws he missed. And there were some big ones.
Just before halftime, Guarantano had a wide open Jennings in the middle of the endzone for what would have been an easy score. Instead, the Lodi, New Jersey native flinched and the pass fell to the turf.
That was just one of many instances when the redshirt junior failed to hit the mark at the end of the opening half.
“I thought we had chances (at the end of the second half) to stick the ball,” Pruitt said. “We’ll see on tape.”
Although Guarantano didn’t have the best game of his career, his teammates are still behind him 100 percent. For Chandler, that means following his example and getting everyone prepared for the challenge that lays ahead.
He certainly didn’t hold back when discussing his faith in his quarterback, either.
“I believe 100 percent in Jarrett. He’s a great quarterback and great leader for this team,” Chandler said. “He’s going to have his mind right for next week...everybody is going to encourage everybody.”
For the Vols to salvage their season, that may be the only choice moving forward.
“That’s what we have to do to keep going.”