Tennessee lost its fifth-straight game on Saturday evening, falling to No. 23 Auburn 30-17 on The Plains.
The Vols took an early 10-0 lead, but a Jarrett Guarantano pick-six deep in Auburn territory in the third quarter led to 27-unanswered points for the Tigers. Eric Gray rushed for 173 yards and a touchdown, but two missed Brent Cimaglia field goals paired with the Guarantano pick-six were too much for the Vols to overcome.
These are the five biggest observations from Auburn’s win over Tennessee:
Catastrophe strikes Guarantano once again
Catastrophe has found Vols redshirt senior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano often throughout his career on Rocky Top. This season has been no different.
Guarantano had a fumble scooped up and returned for a touchdown against Georgia, and then threw two pick-sixes against Kentucky a week. He threw his third pick-six of the season against Auburn on Saturday night. Guarantano was looking for Josh Palmer in the end zone, but failed to see safety Smoke Monday who jumped the pass and returned it 100-yards for a touchdown that proved to be what flipped the game on its head.
The Vols were on the verge of taking a 17-13 lead when Guarantano threw the pick-six. Instead, Auburn took a 20-10 lead. It wiped away what was a solid outing for Guarantano until that point. He finished 15-of-23 passing for 156 yards, but didn’t throw a touchdown, and the pick-six will live in infamy.
Aside from Guarantano’s pick-six, Brent Cimaglia’s two missed field goals also proved to be the difference in the game. The Vols lost by 13, which is the total amount of points that the Vols gifted to Auburn courtesy of the pick-six and the two missed field goals.
Cimaglia connected from 47-yards out on his second attempt, but missed his first attempt from 50-yards, and his third attempt from 37-yards. He’s now 5-for-9 on the season.
Jeremy Pruitt alluded to Cimaglia dealing with an injury after the game.
“Brent has been going through this really since we got back, I’m talking about all the way back in June,” Pruitt told reporters over Zoom. “When he came back, he had a little bit of an issue and he’s tried to work through it. I mean, it’s very unusual for him to miss some kicks. He felt like he hit one of them really good. But hey, Cimaglia is a great kicker and he’ll make a lot of kicks for us down the road.”
Eric Gray shines
Eric Gray did his best to carry Tennessee to a win on his shoulders alone.
Gray rushed for a season-high 173 rushing yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. He averaged 7.9 yards per carry while catching three passes for 49 yards. His lone touchdown came from a yard out. Gray has now rushed for a touchdown in four of UT’s seven games this season and has scored nine total touchdowns in his last nine games played.
Gray accounted for six plays of 15 or more yards (four rushes, two receptions) and finished with 222 yards from scrimmage (173 rushing, 49 receiving), the second highest single‐game total in his career. Gray’s 33‐yard run to convert a third‐and‐15 on Tennessee’s second drive of the game was the longest rush of the season for the Vols.
It was Gray’s fourth 100‐plus yard rushing performance this season and the fifth of his career. The 173 rushing yards were the second-most in a single game for Gray in his career.
Harrison Bailey looked good
Tennessee’s true freshman quarterback only received two possessions of work on the night, but was very efficient in limited action. Bailey orchestrated a scoring drive on his first possession and was on the verge of doing so once again on the final drive of the game, but the clock simply expired.
Bailey finished the game 7‐of‐10 passing for 86 yards, both career-highs. He also had three rushes for 15 yards on the night.
After making appearances in back-to-back games against Arkansas and Auburn, it’s hard not to think Bailey just might start against Vanderbilt next Saturday. Especially with the latest Guarantano failure.
Yet another coverage bust
Another week, another coverage bust for Tennessee’s defense. Guarantano’s pick-six and Cimaglia’s two missed field goal may be at the top of the list of what to blame for the loss, but the secondary’s coverage bust that allowed Anthony Schwartz to score a 54-yard touchdown is right behind them.
Schwartz was wide open in the secondary. Nobody was within 20-yards of Schwartz. Trevon Flowers was lined up on him prior to the snap and as the play developed, Flowers passed off Schwartz in coverage to Jaylen McCollough. Except McCollough wasn’t there to pick him up.
Pruitt is supposed to be a defensive back guru. Derrick Ansley was coaching defensive backs in the NFL two years ago. You wouldn’t know it by the way the secondary is playing this season.
Tennessee will head to Nashville next Saturday night to take on Vanderbilt (0-7). Kickoff with the Commodores is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.