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Game Balls for the Vols: South Carolina Edition

(Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

Even with freshman starting quarterback Brian Maurer missing Saturday’s game against South Carolina due to consecutive concussions, Tennessee’s offense scored the most points its scored all season against an FBS opponent, beating South Carolina 41-21. The Vols’ 41 points were the most against an SEC foe since UT dropped 63 points on Missouri in a win in 2016.

In the midst of UT’s offensive outburst, Jeremy Pruitt’s defense shut out the Gamecocks’ offense in the second half, allowing Tennessee to score 24 unanswered points. Even Tennessee’s special teams got in on the action, scoring two touchdowns.

Here’s the group of Vols that earned a game ball following UT’s 20-point win over South Carolina.

Tennessee’s quarterbacks

Tennessee’s quarterback room managed to throw for a season-high 351 passing yards against Will Muschamp’s defense, and they did so without their starting quarterback taking a snap. In the absence of Maurer, J.T. Shrout and Jarrett Guarantano combined to complete 18-of-30 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns. The pair didn’t take a sack, nor did they turn the football over.

Individually, Shrout was the first quarterback to play, though Jauan Jennings technically started at quarterback and took the first snap. Shrout was 7-of-11 passing for 122 yards, and he threw his first career touchdown — a beautiful 55-yard toss to Marquez Callaway.

“My teammates have been awesome, encouraging me, being there for me, and I appreciate all of them for that,” Shrout said following the game. “It was definitely really fun being out there tonight and getting to throw that first touchdown pass. It was a really fun experience.”

With Jennings starting at quarterback, Tennessee has now picked up three wins with three different starting quarterbacks for the first time since 2004 when Brent Schaeffer, Rick Clausen, and Erik Ainge all got wins as starters. Oct. 3, 2009 was the last time Tennessee started a non-quarterback at the position, when Nu’Keese Richardson started in the wildcat against Auburn.

“All three of us do a great job of preparing like we’re going to be the guy week-in and week-out,” Shrout said. “Just preparing, preparing throughout practice, watching film. It wasn’t any different than any other week. Tonight was a great experience, and it was great being out there with the guys.”

As for Guarantano, the redshirt junior completed 11 of his 19 passes as he battled through adversity following the Alabama game. His 11 completed passes went for 229 yards and two touchdowns. Guarantano found Jennings for both of his touchdown passes. The first went for 48 yards, and the second went for 19 yards. Guarantano became the 11th player in program history to pass for 4,000 yards in their career.

“I could have played a lot better,” Guarantano said. “I think that there were some times where I could have done some things differently. But the team won, and that’s all I’m really worried about. But I definitely have a lot of room to improve.”

Saturday marked the first time that Tennessee had two quarterbacks pass for over 100 yards in the same game since Joshua Dobbs (183) and Quinten Dormady (109) did so against Tennessee Tech in 2016.

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Jauan Jennings, WR

Jennings was the best player on the field Saturday night against South Carolina. The senior hauled in seven catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns. On his 48-yard touchdown reception, Jennings broke three tackles on his way to the end zone. Then, on his 19-yard touchdown, he hung on to the ball as he was drilled in the back of the end zone while getting both of his feet down.

“We feed off of Jauan,” Nigel Warrior said of Jennings. “We feed off of each other, and Jauan played his butt off today. He showed out. We needed that from him and the rest of our team, and he plays a big role.”

It was a career night for Jennings. He now ranks 10th in program history in receiving yards (1,836), sixth all-time in career receptions (129), and is tied for eighth in touchdown catches (17).

Jennings’ 174 receiving yards were the most by a Tennessee player in an SEC game since Denarius Moore had 228 against South Carolina in 2010. Jennings’ 113 yards in the first half was just the second time in his career that he surpassed the 100-yard threshold in the opening half. His 174 yards were a career-high, and it marked the fifth time in his career he eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark in a game.

Daniel Bituli, ILB

While Jennings was the best player on the field, Daniel Bituli was the best defensive player on the field and likely locked down the SEC Defensive Player of the Week with his 15-tackle performance. Bituli also blocked a punt and then recovered it in the end zone to go along with a pass breakup and a tackle for a loss. He even registered a quarterback hurry.

“At the beginning of the week, we had an interior backer blitzing the A-gap on our punt block,” Bituli said of his blocked punt. “The first time we ran it, I jogged through it, and I realized they didn’t block me. The second time, he chipped me, and he got yelled at for doing it. The third time, I timed it up, ran through that A-gap and just blocked it, man, and I’m grateful.”

Bituli’s 15-tackle performance was the second-highest total of his career. He had 23 total tackles against Georgia Tech in the season-opener of the 2017 season.

As for Bituli’s special teams touchdown, it marked the senior’s second career touchdown.

“Gold,” Bituli described the football on his blocked punt. “I had to score that. I’m just glad I was able to get it for my team. It was a great win for my team today, and I’m just so happy to celebrate with these guys.”

Marquez Callaway, WR

Callaway also balled out alongside Jennings. Not only did the senior wide receiver haul in a 55-yard bomb from Shrout for a touchdown, but he also returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown to give Tennessee an early 10-7 lead. Callaway finished the game with three receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown.

Saturday marked the second time this season that Callaway and Jennings each recorded 100-plus yards in the same game. It’s the first time that the Vols have had two receivers both record 100-plus yards in the same game twice during the same season since 2012.

Brent Cimaglia, K

Cimaglia once again showed up on Saturday. The junior kicker did show he was human by missing a 39-yard field goal attempt, but he made his other two kicks. Cimaglia made a 46-yard field goal to put Tennessee on the board, 7-3, with 7:19 remaining in the first quarter. He then made a 31-yard field goal with 12:21 remaining in the game, extending Tennessee’s lead to 34-21.

On the season, Cimaglia is now 15-of-17. His 15 made field goals lead the SEC.

The Vols have also now made 208-straight extra points, the longest streak in the country.

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