5 Observations: Tennessee 45, UTC 0

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    Photo by Jake Nichols/RTI

    Before 10 minutes of game time had even come off the clock, Tennessee had grabbed a three touchdown lead over UT-Chattanooga. And they would never look back.

    Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano set a career-high for passing touchdowns, the Vols’ defense became a turnover-forcing machine, and UT’s special teams were a difference-maker in Tennessee’s 45-0 shutout victory over the UTC Mocs. Six different Vols scored a touchdown on Saturday, including one on special teams.

    Tennessee drove down the field for a touchdown on their opening possession, going 41 yards in just six plays. Then, UT blocked a UTC punt on the Mocs’ first possession of the game, and they returned that for a score. On the Vols’ next offensive possession, they again scored, this time going 16 yards on three plays after Nigel Warrior set up the offense with a short field after an interception.

    Just like that, Tennessee had a 21-0 lead, and they cruised the rest of the way.

    The Vols scored touchdowns on five of their first six possessions, and they came away with points on seven of their first eight possessions of the entire game. It wasn’t until late in the third quarter when UT had turned to a bunch of backups that the scoring stopped.

    Tennessee’s defense didn’t allow UTC to score a single point, marking the Vols’ first shutout victory since a 24-0 win in Neyland Stadium against UTEP last season.

    Here are our five biggest takeaways from the Vols’ first win of the 2019 season.

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    Turnover Purge

    Coming into Saturday’s game against UTC, the Vols had forced a grand total of one turnover in their first two games. Against the Mocs, Tennessee totaled five takeaways and also blocked a punt.

    The Vols got things started with a blocked punt that they returned for a touchdown for the second score of the game. Tyler Byrd blocked a UTC punt, and Brandon Johnson recovered it and carried it into the end zone.

    That was just the beginning for Chattanooga’s woes.

    Nigel Warrior would go on to intercept a pass and stepped out of bounds just outside the 10-yard-line or he would’ve returned it for a score. That set up a short touchdown drive for the Vols’ offense. Then, sophomore linebacker Jeremy Banks showed out and intercepted two passes during the game. His first came late in the second quarter, and his second happened late in the third quarter.

    Late in the fourth quarter, true freshman Kenney Solomon intercepted a UTC pass in the end zone to preserve Tennessee’s shutout on defense.

    Not only did the defense intercept four passes, but the Vols also recovered a fumble as UTC was trying to score inside the Tennessee goal line. The Vols wound up scoring a touchdown on offense after that turnover.

    Tennessee’s defense also stood strong on fourth down on three separate occasions in the second half, which is effectively a turnover as a “turnover on downs.”

    For a defense that struggled mightily with disruptions the first two games of the season, Saturday’s performance was a welcome sight.

    All the QBs

    For the first time this season, a quarterback other than Jarrett Guarantano saw the field for the Vols. In fact, all three of Tennessee’s scholarship quarterbacks got some action on Saturday.

    Guarantano started the game for UT at quarterback, but on the third series of the game, true freshman Brian Maurer came in. That was by design, as Jeremy Pruitt was looking to get a backup into the game on Tennessee’s third series of the game.

    Later in the first half, redshirt freshman JT Shrout took over as signal caller for a drive.

    Guarantano didn’t play after halftime, and he finished his day 7-of-8 for 142 yards and three touchdowns. Saturday’s game marked his first-ever three touchdown performance through the air, and he completed seven-straight passes after missing his first attempt.

    As for the other quarterbacks, it was a mixed bag.

    Both Shrout and Maurer saw a lot of playing time in the second half, but neither were consistent and struggled to run the offense as effectively (though play-calling was much more conservative at that point).

    Shrout finished 3-of-9 for 23 yards and got bailed out with a roughing the passer penalty on an interception he threw. Maurer only attempted two passes and failed to complete either, but he did run for a six-yard touchdown and finished with 16 yards on four carries.

    Freshman Impact

    Because Tennessee jumped out to such a big lead so quickly, several young Vols were able to play significant snaps on Saturday against Chattanooga.

    Eric Gray, Cedric Tillman (redshirt freshman), Wanya Morris, and Darnell Wright all made big impacts on offense, and Ramel Keyton was targeted a few times, though he didn’t catch a pass. On defense, Henry To’oto’o once again had a solid day, and Quavaris Crouch broke up a pass and played more snaps. Jaylen McCollough, Roman Harrison, Warren Burrell, Kenney Solomon, and Tyus Fields all got playing time as well.

    That doesn’t include redshirt freshman JT Shrout and true freshman Brian Maurer at quarterback, too.

    Tillman was the biggest surprise among all the freshmen, as he caught his first career touchdown as a Vol on a 28-yard reception from Jarrett Guarantano in the second quarter. He finished with two receptions for 38 yards and a score.

    Eric Gray totaled 32 yards on the ground on eight carries, and he caught a pass for four yards. Both Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright earned starts on the offensive line for the Vols, and Jackson Lampley got some playing time, too.

    Defensively, Crouch finished with three tackles and a pass breakup, while To’oto’o got two tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass breakup. Jaylen McCollough got three tackles and a tackle for loss. Roman Harrison totaled four tackles.

    Taking Out Frustrations 

    Saturday was very cathartic for Tennessee. Not just for the players, but for the fans, too.

    The Vols jumped out to a big lead in a hurry, and the energy on UT’s sideline were much better than it was in Week 1. Tennessee came out determined to get a win, and they did.

    There were some frustration penalties early in the game from Trey Smith and Joe Doyle on unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and the celebrations on UT’s early touchdowns were very energetic and exuberant. Things mellowed out some as the game went on, though.

    For Vol fans, seeing Tennessee players happy and performing well was a nice sight after the way the first two weeks went. Getting a win will improve a lot of moods this week, even if the win was against an FCS school like Chattanooga.

    Time for Big Boy Football

    After beating up on UTC, Tennessee turns their attention to the Florida Gators and SEC play. Which means things are about to get a lot more difficult.

    The Vols enter their SEC schedule 1-2, which is a far cry from where Vol fans were hoping UT would be as they prepare to take on Florida next weekend in Gainesville. But Tennessee will enter next Saturday’s game coming off a victory, which is better than the last two weeks went.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.