Coming off of two losses to open the season, the Tennessee football team didn’t just need to win against Chattanooga on Saturday, they needed to win comfortably.
Thanks to execution on all fronts, six takeaways on defense and an efficient offense, the Vols did that, routing the Mocs, 45-0 at Neyland Stadium for their first win of the 2019 season.
The win marked Tennessee’s first in five tries, dating back to last season, and it didn’t come a moment too soon as the Vols head to Gainesville next week for their SEC opener against Florida.
Until then, here are the takeaways from Tennessee’s win:
In the week leading up to the game against Chattanooga, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt challenged his team to create more opportunities for takeaways.
Before Saturday, the Vols’ defense accounted for just one of them, which came in the loss to Georgia State to open the season.
“We obviously haven’t got any (turnovers),” Pruitt said on Wednesday. “We haven’t seen the dividends on gameday, but that’s how we practice. We had had some opportunities to pick a few balls off and we haven’t, but we have to get some balls off of people.”
As evidenced by the Mocs’ six turnovers-three of which were through the air-Tennessee’s defense listened to Pruitt’s message.
The first was a blocked punt by senior Tyler Byrd that was picked up by senior Brandon Johnson to give the Vols a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
A few drives later, Chattanooga quarterback Nick Tiano was picked off by Tennessee senior safety Nigel Warrior.
In the second quarter, the Mocs knocked on the door of cutting into the Vols’ lead, but a botched snap was recovered by senior linebacker Darrell Taylor.
“We got (six) turnovers today,” Pruitt said. “We didn’t turn the ball over. That’s probably the difference in the game. We created some opportunities in special teams. With the turnovers, we were able to keep them out of the endzone.”
Sophomore Jeremy Banks, who has split time between running back and linebacker, even got in on the action with two interceptions.
“I’m glad Jeremy (Banks) got to play,” Pruitt said. “I’m glad to see he was in the right spot. There’s one thing about it, guys that know how to handle the ball that played defense, they get turnovers. You saw that with a running back getting two interceptions today.”
Backup QBs have their day
Tennessee’s search for a backup quarterback to redshirt junior Jarrett Guarantano has gone on since fall camp, according to Pruitt.
The coaches hoped the Chattanooga game would present an opportunity for the Vols’ backups to get their first in-game action of their young careers.
Guarantano, who tossed for two touchdowns in the game, was pulled early in the second quarter once Tennessee had established a comfortable lead, giving true freshman Brian Maurer and redshirt freshman JT Shrout reign over the offense for the duration of the game.
“They have both done some good things in the game and both made some horrible decisions in the game, which is expected,” Pruitt said. “It was their first opportunity. That is why we have been wanting to get them out there. We will see. We will check the film, see who was most consistent and see where we are at. I didn’t see much out there that separated them today.”
Maurer finished passing 0-of-2, but added 16 yards on the ground and a touchdown, while Shrout was 3-of-9 through the air for 23 yards.
The Vols’ special teams unit continues to impress through three games.
Brent Cimaglia was perfect once again, finishing just 1-of-1 from 36-yards out in the second quarter and Ty Chandler put Tennessee in good field position to start the game with a 55-plus yard return.
But the Vols’ biggest play of the day on special teams was Byrd’s blocked punt that scored Tennessee’s second touchdown of the game.
“Tyler (Bryd) is one of our best special teams players,” Pruitt said. “He’s a guy that works really hard, does everything that we ask him to do. He’s got some pretty good guys playing in front of him. He’s a good team player.”
Byrd, who came to the Vols as a wide receiver, is making the best out of his position on the special teams unit.
“Coach (Pruitt) really emphasis on special teams,” Byrd said. “He saw something earlier in the week and we game-planned it. I got the opportunity to go after it and I took it.”
Tennessee will begin their SEC slate at Florida on Sept. 21 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at noon.
The Gators take on Kentucky Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.