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 position grades from Auburn’s win over Tennessee:
Catastrophe stuck Jarrett Guarantano once again on Saturday night. The Vols were driving well into Auburn territory and appeared to be on the verge of taking a 17-13 lead late in the third quarter. But Guarantano stared down Palmer in the end zone, was late getting him the football and threw a pass that Auburn safety Smoke Monday picked off and returned 100-yards for a touchdown. It extended Auburn’s lead to 20-10, which proved to be too much for Tennessee to overcome.
Guarantano was efficient outside of the pick-six, completing 15 of his 23 pass attempts, but the turnover erased all of it. And while Guarantano was efficient passing the football, the offense lacked big plays. He only threw for 156 yards.
The only reason this position does not get an ‘F’ is because Harrison Bailey looked fairly good on his two possessions in the game. Bailey orchestrated a scoring drive on his first possession and was marching the offense down the field on his second when time expired in the game.
Eric Gray turned in a terrific performance against the Tigers.
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.
Tennessee’s receivers continue to struggle to get open. The quarterback doesn’t do them any favors, but the group needs to drastically improve their route-running ability. Tennessee’s leading receivers against Auburn consisted of Eric Gray, Ty Chandler, Jalin Hyatt, Princeton Fant and Jacob Warren. Two running backs, a true freshman, and two tight ends. That’s a poor reflection on Tennessee’s veteran receivers.
Saturday night was the best the tight ends have played this season. It’s not where it needs to be, but it was a step in the right direction. Fant and Warren combined to catch six passes for 56 yards. They also contributed quite well as blockers in the running game.
The offensive line had a lot to do with Gray’s success on the ground. Tennessee’s big uglies up front paved the way for Gray and Ty Chandler to combine for 213 rushing yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. Gray and Chandler averaged 6.87 yards per carry.
Pass protection could have been much better, however. Auburn recorded six tackles for loss, four sacks and added four quarterback hurries.
Tennessee’s defensive line provided very little resistance, both against the run and against the pass. The Vols allowed Auburn’s three running backs — DJ Williams, Shaun Shivers, and Tank Bigsby — to average 5.5 yards per carry. Auburn ran the football with ease on first down to set up manageable second down and third down situations.
Matthew Butler was the only defensive lineman to pressure the quarterback and he only did it once.
Tennessee did generate some pressure against Auburn. The most pressure it’s generated against an offense in quite some time. Nearly all of it came from the outside linebacker position as Kivon Bennett had three tackles for a loss and two sacks, while Deandre Johnson contributed 1.5 TFLs and one quarterback hurry.
The outside linebackers could have done a much better job of setting the edge.
It seems as if the mind continues to tie up the feet of Tennessee’s linebackers, both against the run and the pass. The defensive line isn’t keeping the linebackers clean to make lays, but the linebacker unit hasn’t been a difference-making group in quite some time. Henry To’o To’o had just five tackles, while Quavaris Crouch and Jeremy Banks only had three a piece.
Tennessee’s secondary had yet another coverage bust. This one resulted in a 54-yard touchdown for Anthony Schwartz on a deep ball from Bo Nix. There wasn’t a single defender within 20-yards of Schwartz on the play. Nix went on to throw for 220 yards on 17-of-26 passing.
Bryce Thompson did have an interception in the end zone in the first half to kill an Auburn drive deep into Tennessee territory.
Tennessee’s usual trustworthy special teams unit wasn’t so trustworthy against Auburn, particularly the field goal unit. Brent Cimaglia missed two field goals that proved to be just as costly as Guarantano’s pick-six.
Paxton Brooks didn’t have the best outing either, averaging 37.0 yards on his two punts.
The Vols did a good job of not allowing any big returns from Auburn.
Quarterback play, turnovers and allowing explosive plays on defense continue to plague Tennessee. So does the Vols’ performance in the second half of football games. Tennessee turned in a solid first half performance, but reverted back to its old ways when the second half began. Jeremy Pruitt’s coaching staff continues to fail to adjust when other teams make adjustments and it shows late in football games.