The Vols had gone over a month without a win before they took on Southern Miss for homecoming on Saturday night. But luckily for Tennessee, the Golden Eagles played an uglier game than they did, and the Vols ended their four-game losing skid with a 24-10 victory over Southern Miss.
Tennessee sustained some damaging injuries on offense during the game, but their defense was able to help them out. Neither team managed to total 300 yards of offense, and Tennessee’s third down offense was abysmal. But Southern Miss totaled nearly as many penalties as they did first downs.
Here are our five biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s 24-10 win over Southern Miss.
The Vols’ offense managed just 210 total yards, and they were a pitiful 2-of-13 on third down. John Kelly had 79 of the team’s 95 rushing yards, and Tennessee averaged just 3.6 yards per play on offense.
But luckily for Tennessee’s offense, their defense came to play.
Tennessee’s defense held Southern Miss to just 279 yards of offense, and they forced two big turnovers in the second half. Emmanuel Moseley intercepted a pass and Darrell Taylor forced a fumble that Rashaan Gaulden recovered, and both takeaways set the Vols up deep in Southern Miss territory. And Tennessee’s offense used that short field to score two of their three touchdowns on the night.
The Vols’ defense bailed out an injury-plagued offense, and it was because of them that Tennessee managed to win.
Some Redshirts Get Burned
Tennessee had to burn two redshirts of true freshman in this game. And one proved to be more significant than the other.
Riley Locklear had to come in on the offensive line for several plays, and that was his first collegiate action of his career. And true freshman quarterback Will McBride also had to come in for an injured Jarrett Guarantano.
McBride finished just 1-of-8 for 13 yards in his playing time, and he ran for seven yards as well.
Southern Miss shot themselves in the foot on several occasions in this game, and it ended with them totaling 120 penalty yards with 14 penalties called against them.
Several of those penalties gave the Vols first downs on offense or pushed the Golden Eagles’ offense back to terrible field position. Southern Miss started five of their 14 possessions inside the 25-yard line, and 10 of their 14 possessions started at their own 25 or worse.
Tennessee had just three penalties called against them, and their penalties totaled just 29 yards. They didn’t have a penalty called against them till late in the second half.
What About Quarterback?
Butch Jones declined to comment on the severity of Jarrett Guarantano’s injury after the game, but he did say that the redshirt freshman could’ve played again in the game if needed. As it was, however, he sat the entire second half as true freshman Will McBride orchestrated the offense.
If Guarantano’s injury lingers or hampers him in any way, how does Tennessee handle their quarterback position? McBride wasn’t asked to do much in his half of play in the game, but he didn’t look ready to lead the offense either. Granted, the rag tag group of offensive lineman blocking for him didn’t help him, and neither did the drops by Tennessee’s receivers. But he still didn’t impress a ton in his playing time.
Guarantano had been improving with each passing game. Tennessee can’t afford to lose him for the final three games if they hope to make a bowl game this year.
No More Non-Conference
This game marked the last non-conference game Tennessee will play this year. All four of the Vols’ victories have come against non-conference foes, but now they have to win some SEC games if they want to find bowl eligibility.
Tennessee is 0-5 in conference play and have games against Missouri, LSU, and Vanderbilt upcoming. If the Vols want to qualify for postseason play this year, they need to find a way to win a couple conference games.