Tennessee took the field on Saturday for the first Orange & White Game under new head coach Jeremy Pruitt, and it was a one-sided affair. The Orange Team dominated the White Team to the tune of a 34-7 victory. Jarrett Guarantano, the quarterback for the Orange Team, earned MVP honors for his performance, and the White Team didn’t score until the fourth quarter.
Saturday’s spring game returned to an actual game-like format, and there wasn’t any crazy scoring system. A touchdown was six points, a field goal was three points, and a PAT was one point. No points for sacks, big gains, or anything like that.
Here are our five biggest takeaways from the Vols’ 2018 Orange & White Game.
Guarantano Looks Improved
It wasn’t a flawless performance, and it wasn’t even spectacular. But rising redshirt sophomore Jarrett Guarantano looked improved as a signal caller for the Vols on Saturday.
Guarantano was the Orange & White Game MVP, and it was for good reason. He completed 15 of his 27 passes for 226 yards and two scores. He didn’t turn the ball over, and he ripped off a 17-yard run once as well.
Guarantano looked more aggressive, less indecisive, and more poised in the pocket. And he was able to do that with an offensive line that still isn’t completely healthy. He threw a variety of passes, and though he was still late on throws and didn’t look extremely polished, it was still an upgrade over his performance last fall.
Real Talent at Receiver
Maybe it’s because Tennessee’s secondary is bad, but the Vols’ receivers looked like legit SEC pass catchers on Saturday.
Part of the Vols’ receivers success was likely due to lack of depth and high-quality players in the secondary. But even with that, Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer especially looked impressive. Callaway caught the game’s first touchdown and finished three catches for 30 yards. Palmer added three receptions for 77 yards, and Latrell Williams had an impressive 36-yard touchdown grab as well. Eli Wolf looked competent as a pass catcher as well, hauling in five catches for 63 yards and the final score of the game.
Getting Jauan Jennings back in the receiving corps this fall will be another big boost to a unit that looked more than competent on Saturday.
A Fullback? I-Formation?
Tennessee fans haven’t seen much I-formation or utilization of fullbacks over the last half decade. But they got to see plenty of that during the Orange & White Game.
The Vols lined up under center many times and had a fullback in the backfield on multiple occasions. They even stayed under center for a whole possession at the goal line in the second half, and it resulted in a one-yard touchdown run by Ty Chandler.
Get ready to see more old school football blended with new spread concepts for the Vols moving forward. Saturday was just a taste of that.
Defense Has Better Depth
One thing that was very apparent on Saturday was the disparity in quality depth on both sides of the ball. Tennessee’s second team offense looked way behind the first team, while the second team defense didn’t have nearly as big of a drop-off. Will McBride wasn’t helped by the fact that the second team offensive line had to use very young players and walk-ons, but even with that the White Team offense looked like a totally different team than the Orange Team offense.
Depth has been thin at a multitude of positions this spring, and that lack of depth showed big time on offense on Saturday. The Vols can hardly afford any injuries on the offensive line or at running back this fall.
Despite coming off the worst season in program history and another coaching change, Tennessee fans still put together a pretty good showing for the Orange & White Game. The announced attendance on Saturday was 65,098, and while that announced total was a little inflated, the crowd was still pretty sizable. The lower bowl of Neyland Stadium was almost completely full, and the upper decks had some stragglers sitting in them.
The 65,098 announced total is the fourth-largest attendance at the Orange & White Game in program history.