The Tennessee football team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.
BYU, whose offense struggled to move the ball for most of the contest, converted a third down-and-long with a 70-plus yard pass and catch to set up a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation.
In overtime, the Cougars were able to escape Knoxville with a 29-26 win, effectively dropping the Vols to 0-2 for the first time since 1988.
Here is how we grade their performance in week two:
How do you grade the performance of a quarterback who threw a pair of touchdowns but also played a huge role in his team’s loss?
Redshirt junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano had the benefit of senior wide receiver Jauan Jennings on Saturday, who caught both of Guarantano’s passes, one off of a tipped ball in triple coverage and another that was a few inches away from being a game-ending interception in the endzone.
Between week one and week two, Guarantano took a big step back and Tennessee was almost fortunate enough to win in-spite of his performance.
His decision to throw late to a previous wide-open Jennings in the end zone just before the half resulted in a pass breakup instead of six. Had he hit Jennings in stride earlier, the Vols likely would have won the game. Early in the second half, Guarantano turned the ball over with an interception right to a BYU linebacker deep in their own territory. A couple of plays later, the Cougars scored to pull within three, 13-10.
For the second-straight week, Tennessee’s receiving corps was highlighted by Jennings. His touchdown grab in the first overtime was wrestled away from a BYU defensive back to keep the Vols’ hopes alive.
On the night, Jennings tallied four catches for nearly 90 yards, as well as the two scores. His 51-yard catch in the third quarter set Tennessee up deep in BYU territory.
The receivers totaled just over a hundred yards, with Jennings recording most of those. That’s not an indictment on the group, either. Guarantano’s late and missed throws were a big reason why.
A week after struggling to find a pulse in the run game against Georgia State, Tennessee’s rushing attack showed much more promise, especially true freshman Eric Gray.
Gray was featured more in the run game due to the absence of Tim Jordan, who sat out with an ankle injury. Gray racked up 77 yards on the ground, his longest being a 13-yard run in the third quarter.
Junior Ty Chandler also had a strong performance, leading the team on the ground with 154 yards and another 18 yards in receptions.
This unit was leaps and bounds better than they were in the season opener, which should be a positive takeaway for the Vols.
The running backs were not the only area of improvement for Tennessee between week one and this past Saturday. After giving up four sacks against Georgia State, the offensive line only allowed one against BYU as well as just one tackle for loss.
In short, they played well enough for the Vols to win the game, again, as evidenced by their strong running game. Guarantano had time to pass the ball, too but it was his own inability to make throws had the offense coming up short.
It wasn’t a perfect performance, but there was marked improvement up front.
Tennessee struggled in the worst way here in week one. With bad alignments, obvious confusion and little push up front, Georgia State’s option attack and ground game chewed up the Vols’ defensive line.
Junior defensive linemen LaTrell Bumphus led the group with two tackles for loss and two sacks as Tennessee was able to get in and harass BYU quarterback Zach Wilson for most of the night.
The defensive line also held the Cougars to just 107 yards total for the game, a far cry from the 213 yard they relinquished to Georgia State last week.
The line-backing position took a hit when leading tackler and senior leader Daniel Bituli had to sit out after undergoing a procedure before the season opener.
Bituli also missed the game against BYU, but a mixture of young talent and seasoned experience made up for that for the most part.
Freshman linebacker Henry To’o To’o continued to impress, tallying a team-second most tackles (8). Senior Darrell Taylor was also a force at the position, racking up eight tackles as well, including a sack.
In all, Tennessee linebackers accounted for 24 tackles in the game.
For the most part, Tennessee’s defensive backs held Wilson and BYU receivers in check for most of the night.
The Vols allowed just one touchdown, but gave up over 230 yards through the air, more than 70 of which the Cougars ate up on one play. That play just happened to be the biggest of the game.
With 17 seconds left and facing a third-down, Wilson found a wide-open Micah Simon streaking down the sideline. BYU ended up at the Tennessee 15-yard line, which set up the field goal that sent the game into overtime.
Leaving Simon unaccounted for was a major malfunction by the Vols’ secondary that ultimately cost them the game after an otherwise decent outing.
Brent Cimaglia. That’s about all you can say.
Tennessee’s junior place kicker has been perfect through two games this season, going 4-of-4, including one from 51-yard outs, which tied a career-high set in 2017.
Like most of the performances on the field, Tennessee’s game plan from a coaching standpoint was good enough to win, but execution matters. If Guarantano hits a sure-handed Jennings just before the half and Alonte Taylor doesn’t breakdown and allow Simon to get behind him, the entire outlook changes.
Will Jeremy Pruitt and Jim Chaney’s approach be enough in SEC play as long as they limit mistakes? It’s hard to say, but it was good enough to do the job on Saturday.
The latter part of September and the whole month of October look very bleak for the Vols after Saturday. With Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi State coming up, it’s hard to see Tennessee not going 1-6 in that span. If they had beaten BYU, there’d be a little more reason for optimism, that’s why this loss looms large.