Five Observations: No. 21 Tennessee 35, Missouri 12

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    Tennessee running back Eric Gray (3) scores a touchdown during the second quarter of a game between Tennessee and Missouri at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.

    No. 21 Tennessee defeated Missouri 35-12 in its home opener on Saturday afternoon inside of Neyland Stadium.

    The Vols led from start to finish and were able to avoid a Missouri comeback in the third quarter when senior safety Theo Jackson picked off a pass while the Tigers were driving deep into Tennessee territory.

    Here are our five biggest observations from Tennessee’s win over Missouri in its home-opener.

    Vols running game is dominant

    Ty Chandler and Eric Gray followed up an impressive performance against South Carolina in the season opener with an impressive performance against Missouri in the home opener. With help from the Tennessee offensive line, Chandler and Gray combined to rush for 195 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries. The duo averaged 5.6 yards per carry.

    Gray was Tennessee’s leading rusher. The sophomore ran for 105 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. He averaged 6.6 yards per carry in his second career 100-yard rushing game. Gray added a 13-yard touchdown catch through the air.

    Chandler almost reached the century mark as well. The senior rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.

    Tennessee rushed for 232 yards and four touchdowns as a team, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. The four touchdowns were the most in a game for the Vols since they rushed for four touchdowns against East Tennessee State in 2018.

    Tennessee improved in situational football

    The Vols were awful on third down against South Carolina, going 1-for-11. Tennessee was much better on the money down against Missouri as it went 6-for-13. Jarrett Guarantano was near perfect throwing the football on third down. Guarantano was 7-of-8 for 86 yards and a touchdown.

    Tennessee was even better on fourth down going 4-for-4. Three of those first downs on fourth down came in the first quarter. The Vols only picked up two first downs on fourth down all of last season.

    Most importantly, Tennessee was 5-for-5 in the red zone with five touchdowns.

    Shaky performance from Tennessee’s defense

    Tennessee’s defense hasn’t necessarily played bad through two games, but it hasn’t played crisp football either.

    The Vols allowed 218 yards through the air to Missouri’s backup quarterback on Saturday a week after giving up 290 to a South Carolina passing attack that lacks playmakers outside of Shi Smith. The secondary finally forced a turnover against the Tigers, but communication issues hampered them all day long.

    Tennessee also wasn’t good against the run for a second consecutive week. The Vols allowed 4.3 yards per rush to Carolina’s backs. They then allowed Mizzou starting back Larry Rountree to average 4.7 yards per rush on his way to 84 yards and a touchdown.

    There have been bright spots for Tennessee’s defense through two games, but if it’s going to beat the likes of Georgia next Saturday, it’s going to have be more crisp on the defensive side of the ball.

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    Special teams struggles

    Special teams was an issue against Missouri on Saturday, which comes as a surprise. Especially since Brent Cimaglia has been Mr. Reliable during his career as a Vol. Cimaglia missed a 39-yard field goal, his second missed field goal in as many games.

    Paxton Brooks punted the ball well, but Jeremy Pruitt was not pleased with Brooks’ kickoffs against the Tigers following the game. Brooks punted the football twice for an average of 45.0 yards per punt. His longest punt traveled 52-yards and one punt was downed inside of the 20-yard line.

    Tennessee didn’t return a punt or a kickoff during the game.

    Guarantano continues to show signs of progress

    Guarantano continues to do what he’s asked to do. That’s make good decisions, don’t hold on to the football, don’t miss receivers running open, make sure Tennessee is in the correct run plays and don’t turn the football over. He’s checked all of those boxes through two games this season.

    Against Missouri, QB No. 1 for the Vols was 14-of-23 for 190 yards and a touchdown. The next step is doing it against an opponent such as Georgia.

    Up Next

    Tennessee now turns its attention to No. 4 Georgia. The Vols and Bulldogs will kickoff at either noon ET on ESPN or 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS next Saturday in Athens.