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Final Observations: BYU 29, Tennessee 26 (OT)

(Photo via Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics)

Tennessee embarrassed itself during Week 1 with a historical loss to a Georgia State team that was coming off of a 2-10 season the year before.

The Vols’ performance against BYU in Week 2 was much better, though the Vols squandered the game late. The effort was infinitely better, and Tennessee was the better team for 59 minutes. Unfortunately, UT wasn’t at its best when it mattered most — that being on the final drive of regulation and in both overtime periods.

After watching the game live and rewatching the game twice, these are my final takeaways from Tennessee’s double-overtime loss to BYU on Saturday night.

Quarter-by-Quarter Thoughts

First Quarter

The opening 10 minutes of Saturday’s game was better than the entire Georgia State game. From the jump, the effort was exactly where it needed to be.

Tennessee began the game with a tremendous defensive series. A week after struggling to generate pressure, the defense generated four hurries on the first drive. Freshman linebacker Quavaris Crouch was responsible for two of the hurries.

That set up for Tennessee’s offense to have its best possession of the season. On a 15-play, 80-yard drive that spanned 7:15 of game time, a heavy dose of freshman running back Eric Gray led to a touchdown to give the Vols an early 7-0 lead. It also helped that a couple of plays — the Josh Palmer catch on the sideline that was reviewed and ruled a catch and the Jauan Jennings touchdown on 4th-and-3 — went in Tennessee’s favor.

In the first quarter, UT rushed for 44 yards on nine carries and threw for 97 yards on 6-of-7 passing.  BYU was held to -1 rushing yard and 64 passing yards.

Second Quarter

The last play of the first quarter was a 51-yard pass to Jennings who was wide open streaking down the seam. Tennessee wasted that play, however, to begin the second quarter thanks to an intentional grounding call and a Gray rush on 4th-and-1 that was stuffed at the line of scrimmage because Ryan Johnson allowed the defender to cross his face and blow up the play.

UT’s strong defensive start continued into the second quarter, forcing a three-and-out on BYU’s first possession of the quarter. The fans had a big impact through the first 19 minutes of the game, causing the Cougars to be called for two delay of games and a false start.

Following Brent Cimaglia’s first field goal of the game — a 51-yard attempt — freshman linebacker Henry To’oto’o had a key stop in the backfield for a loss on 3rd-and-3 to force a BYU punt. It prevented a touchdown, forcing the Cougars to settle for a field goal.

Tennessee turned it into a field goal of their own — a 39-yard field goal from Cimaglia. But it should have resulted it in a touchdown instead. With under two minutes remaining in the first half, this is when Jarrett Guarantano really began to struggle.

Not only did Guarantano miss Jennings deep on 1st-and-10, but he was inaccurate with the football when he finally threw it his way. Then on the next play, Guarantano missed Palmer streaking open on a post for what would have been a touchdown. Instead, he dropped it off to Callaway for a gain of two yards.

Tennessee should have entered halftime with a 17-3 lead rather than a 13-3 lead.

Third Quarter

Guarantano’s interception to begin the second half was as bad as it gets. It resulted in a BYU touchdown on their ensuing possession — a touchdown drive where Crouch, Nigel Warrior, and Shawn Shamburger took poor angles on. It didn’t help that Warren Burrell couldn’t get off a block on Ty’Son Williams’ 16-yard touchdown run, either.

The next possession following the interception and BYU touchdown was a three-and-out for UT because of the offensive line. On 2nd-and-4, the interior of the line completely whiffed, resulting in a 2-yard loss for Gray. Then, on 3rd-and-6, Guarantano was pressured and could only find Callaway for a gain of 3 yards.

Tennessee had to punt its next drive as well, and then began its final drive of the third quarter on a sour note. Guarantano had Palmer deep thanks to play-action, and despite a clean pocket, overthrew him by a good two or three yards. Instead of a touchdown that would have put Tennessee up 20-10, the drive resulted in a field goal as the fourth quarter began. It was a nice 14-play, 77-yard scoring drive, but the Vols should have put a touchdown on the board.

The inability of those drives in the third quarter to end in touchdowns determined the play-calling in the fourth quarter.

Fourth Quarter

With zero confidence in Guarantano, Chaney resorted to the run on 16 of Tennessee’s 18 plays in the final quarter. The Vols even ran the football 11-straight plays at one point. Those 11-straight run plays made up all of Tennessee’s plays on the final two offensive possessions of regulation.

UT had plenty of chances to put the game away in the second half, but none were greater than the 4th-and-1 play in which Palmer was stopped on an end-around with 4:15 remaining. If Palmer picks up the first down, Tennessee likely puts points on the board.

The biggest play of the fourth quarter was the final defensive play of regulation. In what was a simple cover three defense, Alontae Taylor lost track of his man and allowed a 64-yard pass that put BYU in field goal range. It didn’t help that Warrior whiffed on a tackle, which allowed the Cougars to gain 20 or so more yards.

In the fourth quarter, Tennessee attempted just one pass.

First Overtime

BYU’s RPOs gave Tennessee’s defense fits in the first overtime. Shawn Shamburger was beat for one that resulted in a first down, and then Alontae Taylor gave the wide receiver way too much cushion on the first touchdown of OT.

Offensively for Tennessee in overtime, Guarantano bailed the Vols out twice on third-and-long. On 3rd-and-11, Guarantano found Palmer for a must-have first down. Then, on 3rd-and-10, Guarantano found Jennings for a touchdown to tie the game. Even with a defender on his back, nobody was going to pry the football away from Jennings.

Second Overtime

Guarantano wasn’t as crisp in the second overtime, though. Not only was he late, but he missed Wood-Anderson high over the middle of the field on 2nd-and-9. That played a big part in Tennessee having to settle for a field goal.

Tennessee’s defensive possession in the second overtime that allowed BYU to score the game-winning touchdown was hideous. On the first play, BYU’s end-around completely fooled the defense. On the second play, Will Ignont missed a tackle in the backfield, allowing the Cougars to gain 7 yards. Then on the third play — BYU’s game-winning touchdown — it was all about effort. Warrior had a chance to make a play before a host of BYU players arrived, but failed to do so, allowing the Cougars to punch it into the end zone.

Telling Comments

On the call for ESPN was Greg McElroy, Tom Luginbill, and Dave Pasch. Each week, the broadcast is afforded the luxury of sitting down with the coaching staff on Friday. Usually those comments shine through on the broadcast. On Saturday night’s broadcast, all three broadcasters had some pretty telling comments. Below are the ones that stood out to me.

McElroy: “Guarantano has to be better tonight. Last week, he was really, really sloppy in his fundamentals — made a lot of pre-snap mistakes, was careless with the football, a few turnovers, bad decisions.”

McElroy: “Guarantano did not play well last week. Made some mistakes post-snap, but where he made a lot of errors was in pre-snap — making adjustments, making checks. They gave him freedom at the line of scrimmage, he did not take advantage of it. They simplified it a lot tonight (BYU game) to allow him to play fast.”

Luginbill: “Last week’s results put this coaching staff in a bit of a catch-22. Do we play the upperclassmen who we trust a little more assignment wise, or do we play with the youthful kids who are going to play hard, play fast, but we know they are going to make some mistakes? Expect the latter here tonight in Knoxville. They are going to cut these young guys loose.”

Luginbill also mentioned that when Chaney was talking about Guarantano, Chaney said the Vols’ signal caller was “over-analytical, and he dwells on the previous play.”

Pasch on the Georgia State game: “Pruitt said that the coaches had a sense that it could happen based off how the team had prepared for Georgia State.”

Pasch also mentioned that Pruitt called Guarantano into his office and emphasize to him, “don’t be a hero, make the right play.”

He also mentioned that the coaching staff called out Darrell Taylor for his effort in the Georgia State game.

Assessing Guarantano

Simply put, Guarantano didn’t play well enough on Saturday, and if he had, Tennessee wins the game regardless of the Alontae Taylor gaffe at the end of the game.

By my tally, I deemed nine of his pass attempts as “bad decisions.” Guarantano actually played better than it appeared in the first half. It was the second half where he struggled, and it all began on the last drive of the first half when he missed Jauan Jennings deep for what would have been a touchdown.

In the second half, Guarantano was too predictable with his eyes. He stared down receivers and was dead set on throwing the football to that receiver even if he was in double or triple coverage. Misreading the defense pre-snap led to this on multiple occasions.

Tennessee’s offensive line served Guarantano fairly well considering the unit’s history. He was pressured on just nine of his passes, which is a significant difference compared to the amount of pressures in the past.

With a clean pocket, Guarantano was 14-of-22 for 142 yards and a touchdown. Against pressure, he was 4-of-7 for 36 yards. With a a five-man protection, he was 11-of-18 for 122 yards and a touchdown, whereas with a six-man protection, he was 6-of-10 for 57 yards and a touchdown.

On third down, Guarantano was 8-of-11 for 61 yards and a touchdown, but he only picked up the first down on four of his 11 third down passes. He also threw an interception on third down.

Tennessee went under center nearly 60 percent of the time and used a two-tight end set around 55 percent of the time. Wood-Anderson and Austin Pope were the two primary tight ends. Jacob Warren saw action on one play.

Chaney utilized play-action on 15 different passes.

Tennessee’s rushing attack was ultra-effective, as Chaney called multiple stretch-zone runs. It provided the offensive line the opportunity to work zone gaps rather than block man-to-man.

General Observations:

  • It was cool to see Jeremy Pruitt fired up in the ‘T’ as Tennessee was running out onto the field. There’s no second-guessing Pruitt’s passion on gameday.
  • Kudos to Tennessee fans, who showed up yet again despite not having a reason to. As a result, Neyland was absolutely rocking, and BYU was flagged for a delay of game on the first play of the game. Because of Neyland, BYU was called for three pre-snap penalties in the first half.
  • Tennessee’s lack of a bruising running back was evident on multiple occasions in short-yardage situations. Ty Chandler and Eric Gray were terrific, but the Vols could really use a bruising running back on its roster. There’s no point in moving Quavaris Crouch or Jeremy Banks to running back, as both are beginning to come along at linebacker. Tennessee will have to wait for the arrival of Maryville commit Tee Hodge.
  • Where would Tennessee be without Brent Cimaglia? Seriously. The man has been stuck on automatic. Cimaglia is going to end up winning a game, maybe two, for the Vols.
  • Pruitt had to use three (!!!!!!!!!!!!) of his six timeouts because Theo Jackson was not lined up properly.
  • Jim Chaney fell in love with the stretch play in the second half. Whatever side Austin Pope went in motion to, the Vols ran the ball to that side.
  • Tennessee left so many points on the field. The Vols crossed the fifty on six of their 11 possessions during regulation and only scored 16 points (!!!!). Furthermore, UT crossed the 25-yard-line just three times.
  • Guarantano left some plays on the field in the first half, but he didn’t play as bad in the first half as he did in the second half. He was a completely different player after he missed Jennings late in the first half. Guarantano saw the field pretty well in the first half, but he didn’t do so in the second half.
  • Tennessee was 1-of-7 on third down in the second half. Yuck.
  • Of course BYU’s game-tying field goal with one second remaining barely snuck in. Of course.
  • As Jeremy Pruitt noted, it was beyond frustrating that Tennessee’s defense gave up one touchdown in 60 minutes of regulation, but then allowed two touchdowns on back-to-back drives in overtime. The Vols have to battle through adversity better.
  • When Tennessee scored in the first overtime in response to BYU’s touchdown, should Jeremy Pruitt have gone for two — to win the game? I’m not at all critiquing his decision to kick the extra point, but with the defense shell-shocked….

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