Tennessee needed a bounce-back game in a big way after their season-opening loss to West Virginia. And that’s just what they got in their home opener of the 2018 season.
Jeremy Pruitt earned his first victory as a head coach as the Vols blew out ETSU 59-3 in the first game in Knoxville of 2018. Tennessee broke off three plays of 50 yards or more, and UT’s defense got a much-needed break after dealing with West Virginia’s potent offense last week. Tennessee held ETSU to just 194 yards of total offense and 3.3 yards per play while intercepting two passes.
Tennessee got several younger players some playing time during Saturday’s game, and this time the Vols weren’t thrown off by yet another weather delay. Just like in Tennessee’s season opener, the Vols dealt with a lightning delay in their home opener against ETSU. This delay lasted less than an hour, however, and the delay happened in the second quarter.
In fact, unlike last week, the Vols actually came out and looked improved after the delay.
Tennessee held a 10-0 lead before the delay and were struggling to move the ball on offense. They then poured on 21 points in less than two minutes of game time after the delay, and that put the game away.
Here are our five observations from the Vols’ first victory of 2018.
Finding Multiple Ways to Score
Tennessee scored in just about every way possible on Saturday. They got a touchdown on special teams, on defense, and scored multiple times on offense as well during the blowout.
The Vols got the unconventional scoring started when Marquill Osborne blocked an ETSU punt, scooped it up, and returned it eight yards for the Vols’ first touchdown of the game.
Later, freshman cornerback Bryce Thompson almost had a pick-six in the second quarter, but he was ruled out of bounds inside the five. On the next ETSU possession, Kyle Phillips tipped the pass at the line, and linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. returned it 33 yards for a score.
All in all, the Vols forced four turnovers (including the blocked punt) and scored on all four of those takeaways.
The Vols had a few freshmen make some noise on Saturday on both sides of the ball.
The aforementioned Bryce Thompson not only intercepted a pass and nearly returned it for a score, but he also had a pass breakup, two tackles for loss, and four total tackles. Thompson was credited with the start at corner today for the Vols, and he made it pay off.
On offense, Jerome Carvin earned his first start of his career at guard, and he played for a large part of the game. Freshman running back Jeremy banks stole the show on offense, though. He carried the ball 13 times for 62 yards and scored twice. Banks ran with purpose, and he showed off some great vision as well.
Offensive Line Still Struggles
Even though Tennessee finished with 193 rushing yards and a 4.6 yard per carry average, the Vols’ offensive line was less than impressive against lesser competition.
ETSU still managed to sack Jarrett Guarantano and picked up seven tackles for loss in the game. Not only that, but Guarantano was pressured and knocked down far more than he should’ve been against an FCS school. Tennessee had negative-one rushing yards at the end of the first quarter.
The line got better as the game went on, but Tennessee still struggled in the red zone and had issues blocking a defensive unit they clearly were better than.
Much Better on Third Down
One of the big killers for the Vols last week was their inability to stop West Virginia on third down in the second half and their incompetence on third down on offense. That wasn’t the case on this Saturday, though.
Tennessee held ETSU to just 2-of-15 on third downs, and ETSU didn’t convert a third down till the third quarter. The Vols themselves converted just four of their 10 third down attempts, but that was still better than their sub-40 percent effort from last week.
Not Much of a Two Quarterback Day
Keller Chryst was impressive on his 50-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Murphy late in the game, but he wasn’t in the game very often. He did finish a perfect 3-for-3 for 70 yards and that touchdown, but Jarrett Guarantano clearly got more snaps and led the offense much more.
There isn’t a quarterback controversy in Knoxville, but Chryst did look good when he was in. Jeremy Pruitt said he wanted to develop a back-up option at quarterback, and they got to see a little bit from Chryst today.
Guarantano finished 8-of-13 for 154 yards on the afternoon.