For the first time all season, Tennessee can hand out game balls following a win over an FBS opponent, and more importantly, an SEC opponent. The Vols defeated Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon 20-10 to improve to 2-4 on the season and 1-2 in SEC play.
Tennessee led from start-to-finish. Brian Maurer orchestrated a scoring drive in the first quarter capped by a 15-yard rushing touchdown to give the Vols a 7-0 lead. After Mississippi State kicked a field goal midway through the second quarter to get on the board, Brent Cimaglia drilled a 49-yard field goal as the first half expired to extend Tennessee’s lead to 10-3.
After being benched a week earlier, Jarrett Guarantano started the second half at quarterback after Brian Maurer suffered a concussion late in the second quarter. Midway through the third quarter, Cimaglia once again extended the Vols’ lead, this time on a 22-yard field goal to make it 13-3. Then, with 2:35 remaining in the game, Guarantano found Tyler Byrd for a 39-yard touchdown to put the game away.
Here’s the group of Vols that deserve a game ball following the win over Mississippi State.
Jarrett Guarantano, QB
Nobody expected Guarantano to be the quarterback that led Tennessee to a victory on Saturday afternoon against Mississippi State, but that’s exactly what he did. Called upon after Maurer’s injury, the redshirt junior led three of Tennessee’s four scoring drives.
Guarantano finished the game 6-of-7 for 106 yards and a touchdown. Despite being asked to simply manage the game while the running backs iced the game, Guarantano made several big throws. On third downs, he was 3-of-3 for 65 yards, and on each pass play that was called, he picked up a first down. Most importantly, he didn’t turn the football over.
Tyler Byrd, WR
Byrd is another veteran player who has been an afterthought on Tennessee’s roster. The senior blocked a punt in Week 3 against Tennessee-Chattanooga, but he hasn’t been called upon much since.
Against Mississippi State, Byrd was Tennessee’s leading wide receiver with three catches, 56 yards, and a touchdown. His touchdown put the game away, as he took a simple hitch route and cut up field for a 39-yard touchdown.
Nigel Warrior, S
Warrior made the play of his career when he picked off his second pass of the season against the Bulldogs. Tommy Stevens tried to force a ball into double coverage, and Warrior made an athletic play to bring in the interception. Along with the interception, the senior finished with four tackles and two pass breakups.
Warrior wasn’t the only secondary member who balled out against Mississippi State. Kenneth George Jr. also picked off a pass, as did Trevon Flowers — who broke his leg on the play. Bryce Thompson also played well, as did Alontae Taylor in the absence of Warren Burrell. Thompson didn’t record a pick, but he did have a sack and a tackle for a loss. Taylor was tied for second on the team in tackles with five, as he also recorded half a tackle for a loss.
Tennessee’s defensive backs didn’t just have an impact in terms of pass breakups and interceptions, though. The Vols recorded seven sacks on the day, but in the words of senior linebacker Daniel Bituli, a lot of those sacks were “coverage sacks” because of how Tennessee’s secondary was playing.
Brent Cimaglia, K
Cimaglia missed his first goal of the season against Georgia seven days ago. The junior bounced back against Mississippi State, however, making both of his field goal attempts. Cimaglia was successful from both 49 and 22 yards out. His field goals were instrumental in keeping it a two-score game throughout most of the second half.
Tennessee’s front seven
A completely different Tennessee defensive front showed up against Mississippi State. The Vols recorded 7.0 sacks and 10.0 tackles for a loss against the Bulldogs.
Darrell Taylor led the team with two sacks, while Darel Middleton, Bryce Thompson, Matthew Butler, Aubrey Solomon, and Kivon Bennett each recorded one sack. Taylor also led the team in tackles for loss (2.0). Greg Emerson was next with 1.5, while LaTrell Bumphus, Middleton, Thompson, Butler, Solomon, and Bennett each recorded one. Alontae Taylor had half a tackle for a loss.
Most impressive, though, was Tennessee holding Kylin Hill to just 13 rushing yards on 11 carries. Hill entered the game as the SEC’s leading rusher, but against the Vols, he averaged 1.2 yards per carry.
Joe Doyle, P
Tennessee’s starting punter was instrumental in flipping field position. The Vols were able to win the field position battle thanks to Doyle averaging 46.2 yards per punt. He had a long of 57 yards and downed two punts inside the 20-yard line.
The Vols’ running back duo
Ty Chandler and Tim Jordan weren’t flashy, and they didn’t necessarily put up big numbers. They did get the job done, however. Tennessee’s running back duo combined for 128 yards and a touchdown as they bled the clock in the second half.
Chandler served as Tennessee’s leading rusher with 63 yards on 16 carries. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry. Jordan had the team’s lone rushing touchdown and rushed for 59 yards on 19 carries.
Tennessee’s offensive line
Chandler, Jordan, or Guarantano would not have been able to have as good of a game as they did without the help of Tennessee’s offensive line. The group was dominant, allowing just one sack and helping the rushing attack average 4.1 yards per carry.