Following an embarrassing start to the season, Tennessee finally got in the win column on Saturday afternoon. The Vols welcomed Tennessee-Chattanooga to Neyland Stadium and promptly beat the Mocs 45-0. It marked Tennessee’s first shutout since it beat UTEP 24-0 last season.
A dominating win that was over by the end of first quarter means that several players performed well. These are the players that earned themselves a game ball with their performance against the Mocs.
Tyler Byrd, WR
The senior wide receiver didn’t record a catch on offense, but he had an even bigger impact on special teams. Byrd busted through the line to block a UTC punt that resulted in a scoop-and-score touchdown for fellow senior receiver Brandon Johnson.
“I lined up on the left side,” Byrd explained after the game. “I was waiting for the shield to move to the left, and when the shield moved, I just said, ‘I got this one,’ and I just laid out for it and was hoping for the best.”
Byrd almost blocked a second punt, and even swears he tipped it. His mentality towards playing on special teams as a senior despite not playing much on offense is even better though.
“I just make it as important as I can,” he said. “Being on offense (is) limited, so I really want to make a difference somehow. If my opportunity comes within special teams, that’s what I’m going to do to make it the best I can.”
Jeremy Banks, LB
If you had Banks leading the team in interceptions through two games, congratulations, you deserve an ‘Atta Boy.’ Against the Mocs, Banks twice dropped into coverage and picked off the pass to record the first two interceptions of his career.
“I told him when he intercepted that first one that the first guy tackled him [on the return],” Pruitt said. “You know, most good running backs make the first one miss. So I made sure to point that out.”
Pruitt has been a huge advocate for Banks sticking at inside linebacker, and Saturday’s performance showed why.
Jarrett Guarantano, QB
Guarantano had a rough two-week stretch to begin the season. But against Tennessee-Chattanooga, he bounced back with a career-high three touchdown passes. Guarantano was 7-of-8 for 142 yards and did not throw an interception.
The redshirt junior found Jauan Jennings for a 12-yard touchdown to put Tennessee up 21-0 with 8:36 remaining in the first quarter. Guarantano then found Marquez Callaway for a 39-yard touchdown to put the Vols up 28-0 with 12:01 remaining in the second quarter. His final touchdown pass of the day went for 28 yards to Cedric Tillman with 5:22 remaining in the first half. It put Tennessee up 35-0.
Following Saturday’s performance against UTC, he’s got his confidence back heading into the SEC-opener against Florida.
Tennessee’s offensive line
The O-line has been a punching bag for several years, but on Saturday, they were excellent. Sure, it came against an FCS opponent, but it’s a step in the right direction for a group that has struggled against similar competition in recent years.
Tennessee’s big uglies didn’t allow a sack and helped the Vols rush for 195 yards and two touchdowns.
The young linebackers
How could you not be excited about Tennessee’s young linebacker core? Henry To’oto’o, Roman Harrison, Quavaris Crouch, and Jeremy Banks make for quite the foursome of exciting young linebacker prospects. Even J.J. Peterson showed up against the Mocs. If Peterson could put it all together, the sky is the limit for the group.
Against UTC, Banks had two picks, Harrison had four tackles, Crouch had three tackles, To’oto’o had a tackle for a loss, and Peterson was flying around and had a quarterback pressure.
Nigel Warrior, S
Warrior finally got his hands on the ball for an interception. It was a really nice read and break on the ball for the senior safety who picked up his second career pick. The interception should serve as a nice confidence booster heading into a match-up in Gainesville with a great group of receivers and a backup quarterback.
Brian Maurer, QB
Maurer was 0-of-2 through the air, but he rushed for his first career touchdown and showed great toughness. Though he didn’t complete a pass, his deep ball to Ramel Keyton was pretty. His adrenaline was clearly racing, however, as it was just a tad too long.
Kenny Solomon, CB
Solomon didn’t get to play a whole lot, but the true freshman had a really nice interception in the end zone with a few minutes remaining in the game to keep Tennessee’s shutout intact.
Cedric Tillman, WR
Tillman also gets a game ball for similar reasons to Maurer and Solomon — a career-first. Tillman made a nice contested catch in the end zone for his first career touchdown reception. The score went for 28 yards and put the Vols up 35-0 in the second quarter.
Tennessee’s specialists are as good as any in the country. Brent Cimaglia made yet another field goal, a 38-yarder, and is now a perfect 8-for-8 on the season. Paxton Brooks and Joe Doyle both punted once, and both punts were beauties. Brooks’ punt went 59 yards, and Doyle’s punt traveled 53 yards. Brooks even sent seven of his eight kickoffs through the end zone for touchbacks.