Tennessee entered Saturday’s contest against Southern Miss on a four-game losing streak. The last time the Vols won a game this season was in their last non-conference match-up. The Vols beat UMass 17-13 all the way back on September 23rd.
It had been a long month-plus since Tennessee last tasted victory. But on Saturday night in front of a homecoming crowd, the Vols used a strong defensive effort to end their losing streak, defeating Southern Miss 24-10
Tennessee’s defense forced two turnovers that led to two Tennessee touchdowns, and the Vols held the Golden Eagles to 279 yards of offense. The Vols’ offense suffered injury after injury in this game, but the defense was able to pick up the slack.
Jarrett Guarantano started the game at quarterback for Tennessee, but he didn’t finish it. True freshman Will McBride had to come in for a series in the second quarter because Guarantano got hurt, and then McBride played the entire second half.
The Vols’ offense totaled just 210 yards of offense. But they got bailed out by a good defensive showing and many costly penalties by Southern Miss.
The Golden Eagles committed 14 penalties for a whopping 120 penalty yards, and several of them gave Tennessee first downs or pushed back their own offense into terrible field position. Tennessee had just three penalties called on them for 29 yards.
Tennessee’s offense was short a couple starters on the offensive line heading into this game, and they lost a few more starters as the game went on. Not only did they lose Guarantano, but wide receiver Marquez Callaway left with injury and never returned. Offensive lineman Coleman Thomas went out for at least one series as well, but he returned later in the game.
Will McBride saw several of his passes get dropped, but he also wasn’t asked to do much as he filled in for the injured Guarantano. McBride finished 1-of-8 for 13 yards and seven rushing yards.
John Kelly was essentially Tennessee’s only means of offense in this game. He carried it 20 times for 79 yards and scored two of the Vols’ three offensive touchdowns. The rest of the team combined for just 16 rushing yards on 18 carries.
All four of Tennessee’s wins this season have come against non-conference opponents. But if the Vols want to make a bowl game this year, they’ll have to find a way to not only get their first SEC win on the year, but to string together at least two conference victories.
For at least one more week, the “fire Butch Jones” talk will go on. It’s unlikely he gets canned after a win, no matter how ugly it was.
The game was an ugly one, but it was an ugly one that Tennessee found a way to win. And that’s something they haven’t been able to do much of this season.