Two weeks of disappointment and frustration for the Tennessee football team came to a head Saturday, as the Vols took it all out on Chattanooga, defeating the Mocs 45-0.
Tennessee jumped on Chattanooga early and often Saturday afternoon an front of an 86,208 announced crowd at Neyland Stadium. The Vols scored three touchdowns in the first seven minutes of the game, including a blocked punt by Tyler Byrd that receiver Brandon Johnson returned 24 yards for a touchdown.
“Coach really emphasizes special teams, so he saw something earlier in the week and we game-planned it,” Byrd said. “I got the opportunity to go after it and I just tried to make the most of my opportunity.”
After opening the game with an incompletion Jarrett Guarantano settled in nicely throwing for 142 yards and three touchdowns on 7-of-8 passing in less than a half of action.
“I felt pretty good out there,” Guarantano said. “This week I wanted to harp on details for myself. There were a lot of teams playing drop eight coverage against us. I’ve been getting greedy trying to push the ball downfield. I just need to start working completions more and more.”
The Vols failed to create splash plays through the air in the first two weeks, but Guarantano threw a pair of 30 plus yard touchdown passes finding both Marquez Callaway and Cedric Tillman for six.
After forcing just one turnover in the first two weeks the Vols defense forced five turnovers, three in the first half, including an early interception by Nigel Warrior. The takeaway gave Tennessee’s offense a short field leading to a 12 yard touchdown pass from Guarantano to Jauan Jennings, the senior’s fourth of the young season.
“When you get a turnover sometimes it comes in bunches,” head coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “There is a certain attitude and the way you play that indicates whether you get turnovers or not. If you’re running around hitting people or if you get your hands up and you bat balls. If you have a lot of people swarming and peppering the ball carrier there seems to be more balls out.”
Leading the way for the Vols turnover efforts was Jeremy Banks, who after spending his freshman season playing running back moved to linebacker. The Memphis, Tennessee native intercepted a pair of Nick Tiano passes.
“I told him when he intercepted that first one the first guy tackled him,” Pruitt said. “Most running backs make the first one miss. I made sure to point that out. I’m glad Jeremy got to play… He’s a guy that continues to improve.”
Brent Cimaglia added a 34 yard field goal with 41 seconds left in the first half to extend the Vols lead to 38-0 at halftime.
Tennessee worked plenty of backups in the second half including at the quarterback position where JT Shrout and Brian Maurer both played.
Maurer, a freshman from Ocala, Florida, found the endzone for the first time in his Tennessee career on a six yard run to extend the Vols lead to 45-0 in the third quarter.
The freshman ended his day 0-2 passing while adding 16 yards rushing on four carries.
JT Shrout saw his first action in a Tennessee uniform as well Saturday as the redshirt freshman threw for 23 yards on 3-9 passing.
“It was a good lesson for them,” Pruitt said. “They did some good things and they made some mistakes, so they’ll learn from it and get better with it.”
“We’ll check the film and see who was the most consistent,” Pruitt said. “I didn’t see much out there that separated them today.”
Tennessee will return to action next week when they travel to Gainesville to take on Florida. Kickoff is set for noon ET at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.