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    Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

    This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI columnist Lexie Little

    History repeated itself. The Tennessee Volunteers (1-2) earned their first win of the season against UT-Chattanooga (1-2) on Saturday in Neyland Stadium, shutting out the Mocs, 45-0. Tennessee improved to 39-2-2 against its fellow university system competitor, winning their 10th consecutive match-up to extend a history of success against in-state foes.

    On Oct. 10, 1953, the Tennessee Volunteers earned their first win of the season by defeating UTC 40-7. That Vol squad had also started the season 0-2 with losses to Mississippi State and Duke. And who played on that squad? A halfback named Johnny Majors, who Tennessee faithful celebrate in “This Week in UT Sports History.”

    Sept. 17, 1977

    A Tennessee Vol returned home to take over as head coach during the 1977 season. Johnny Majors, who finished runner-up to Paul Hornung for the 1956 Heisman trophy, played for Tennessee from 1953 until 1956 prior to his career as a coach. He stayed with the Volunteers as a graduate assistant in 1957 and took charge of the backfield from 1958-59 until leaving for Mississippi State. He then went to coach at Arkansas before heading to Iowa State (1968-72) and Pittsburgh (1936-76) where he served as head coach. His 1976 Pittsburgh team won the national championship at the Sugar Bowl to finish a perfect 12-0 season.

    Pittsburgh may have been perfect, but it wasn’t home.

    Majors earned his first win as head coach of the Vols on Sept. 17, 1977, beating Boston College 24-18 in Neyland Stadium. His defense came out roaring just as loud as his prior Pittsburgh Panthers, forcing four fumbles and snagging four interceptions. The number four seemed to be a trend, as that win marked one of only four that fans would see that season; 83,263 witnessed the win No. 1 in Knoxville that day.

    Majors started his Tennessee tenure 4-9-1 through his first 14 games, mirroring current head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s 5-9 initial record and marking another connection between Majors’ career and the current climate.

    “The first year we were 4-7, 5-5-1 the second year, but the third year we were 7-5,” Majors said in an interview for Vols Wire. “We then started building an outstanding program and was here 16 years.”

    The Majors era might have started with a losing record, but he coached winners who bred more winners. Punter Craig Colquitt played on the ’77 team that defeated Boston College. The next two years, he earned the title of Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers who drafted him in the third round of the 1978 NFL Draft. Originally from Knoxville, Colquitt commenced a legacy of winners at Tennessee. His brother, Jimmy, also a Vol, served as the punter for the Seattle Seahawks in 1985. Colquitt’s sons, Dustin and Britton, followed the same UT tradition and became NFL punters.

    In his book, “Tales from Behind the Steel Curtain: The Best Stories of the ’79 Steelers,” Steelers beat reporter Jim Wexell credits Majors with Colquitt’s success saying, “Colquitt was recommended to the Steelers by former Pitt and Tennessee coach Johnny Majors.”

    Though Colquitt did not win a Southeastern Conference championship under Majors, the 1985, ’89, and ’90 squads took home the SEC title. Majors went on to earn an overall record of 185-137-10 before Phillip Fulmer took the helm in 1992.

    Enter: Major(s) controversy.

    In a town known for crazy coaching changes, Majors lost his position after losing games to 1-4 Arkansas, Alabama, and perennial post-bye foe South Carolina. Majors, who missed three games following quintuple bypass heart surgery, blamed “Judas Brutus” assistant coach (later head coach and current athletic director) Phillip Fulmer for the ousting.

    Fulmer had led the Vols to three wins in Majors’ absence. Legend says Fulmer conspired with athletic director Doug Dickey and Tennessee Athletics member Bill Johnson to steal the position from the old ball coach. Fulmer, conspiracy or not, earned the position with continued wins culminating in a perfect season and national title six years later.

    Majors harbors no ill-will for his alma mater.

    “They’ve been great to me and my family for a long, long time since I went there as a freshman in 1953.” Majors said at a speaking engagement in Arkansas as reported by ESPN. “I am not a bitter man, I am not an angry man. I am having too much of a good time living.”

    Now, Majors often return to Hallowed Hill, eating lunch at Copper Cellar on Cumberland Avenue before making his way to Neyland Stadium, a place he has frequented for more than 60 years.

    And it all began 0-2 before a win against UT-Chattanooga.

      (Photo via Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

      No. 9 Florida trailed by two scores in the second half against Kentucky on Saturday, but they rallied and used a missed field goal late in the fourth quarter by the Wildcats to prevail 29-21. But the Gators lost their starting quarterback for the season in the process.

      In the third quarter, starting quarterback Feleipe Franks was brought backwards on a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and suffered a gruesome leg injury in the process. Franks dislocated his right ankle on the play, and Florida head coach Dan Mullen said after the game that Franks’ 2019 season is done.

      “I think they feel pretty certain there was a break and some dislocations, so he’ll be out for the year,” Mullen said after Florida’s victory. “Obviously a huge loss for us.”

      With Franks gone, that means Tennessee will be facing Florida’s backup quarterback when the two teams face-off this upcoming weekend.

      Franks was 12-of-17 for 174 yards, a touchdown, and an interception against Kentucky before suffering the brutal, season-ending injury. He finished his redshirt junior campaign with 698 passing yards, five touchdowns, and three interceptions while completing 76.1 percent of his 71 pass attempts.

      After Franks went down, Dan Mullen turned to redshirt junior Kyle Trask to lead the team. And he helped bring the Gators back.

      Trask completed his first four passes of the game and ended his first drive with a pitch on an option play to running back Lamical Perine that was run in for an eight-yard touchdown. Trask would later score a four-yard rushing touchdown for the go-ahead score for the Gators, giving them a 22-21 lead with 4:11 remaining in the game. Trask finished the game 9-of-13 for 126 yards and a rushing touchdown.

      When the Vols travel to Gainesville next weekend, Trask will likely be the main man at quarterback.

      Trask hasn’t played a great deal in his collegiate career thus far. The bulk of his experience came against Missouri last season. Dan Mullen benched Feleipe Franks in the third quarter after a rough start to the game, and Trask immediately led the Gators on a 75-yard touchdown drive that made the score 35-17 Missouri.

      That would be all the damage he and the Gator offense could muster, however, as the Tigers won 38-17. Trask finished the game 10-of-18 for 126 yards and a touchdown. Franks would take over the starting quarterback position the following week.

      Assuming Trask is the starter for the Gators, Saturday’s contest against Tennessee will be his first carer start at quarterback for Florida. In five career appearance — including Saturday’s win over Kentucky — Trask is 27-of-40 for 328 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. Against Tennessee last year, Trask completed his only pass attempt for 14 yards in the Gators’ blowout victory over the Vols.

      The Gators also have redshirt freshman Emory Jones at quarterback, and according to Dan Mullen, he plans to play both Trask and Jones at QB moving forward.

      Jones joined the Gators as a highly-rated quarterback in their 2018 signing class. The four-star was in the Elite 11 Finals and was selected to the 2018 Under Armour All-America Game. But at Florida, he hasn’t had a chance to show what he can do yet.

      Last season, Jones appeared in four games and used the new redshirt rules to keep his four years of eligibility intact. Jones completed 12 of his 16 pass attempts for 125 yards and two touchdowns, and he ran the ball 18 times for 41 yards. All of his passing came against Idaho, but he appeared in Florida’s games against Charleston Southern, Georgia, and Michigan as well, running the ball in each of those contests.

      In 2019, Jones has appeared in just one game so far, and that was last week’s contest against UT-Martin. Jones completed one of his four pass attempts for two yards and ran four times for 31 yards and a touchdown.

      But quarterback won’t be the only spot Florida has to worry about against the Vols.

      Florida defensive back Donovan Stiner was ejected for targeting in the second half of Saturday’s game against Kentucky, which means he’ll be out for the first half against Tennessee this upcoming weekend. Stiner will be eligible to return at halftime, however. Stiner started 12 of Florida’s 13 games last season at safety, but he’s been more of a backup for the Gators this season. In three games, he’s totaled seven tackles after totaling 49 tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, two interceptions, and three passes defended in 2018. Stiner totaled six tackles against the Vols in Knoxville last season.

      Starting cornerback CJ Henderson could also be out for the Gators when the Vols come to town. Henderson sat out against Kentucky with an ankle injury, and it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to play against Tennessee. Henderson was an All-SEC corner in 2018 and has been effective in 2019 thus far, totaling three tackles and two pass breakups. Last season, Henderson notched five tackles for loss, three sacks, two interceptions, nine passes defended, and two forced fumbles. Henderson picked off a pass and returned it for a score against Tennessee in 2017.

      Offensive weapon Kadarius Toney suffered a wrist injury in Florida’s win over UT-Martin and won’t be on the field for several more weeks. Toney is a bit of a do-it-all athlete for the Gators on offense, showing off play-making ability as a pass catcher and runner. Toney had a 66-yard touchdown reception against Miami in Florida’s season-opening win over the Hurricanes, but he only totaled two catches for six yards against UT-Martin before suffering the injury. He also has four carries for three yards on the year.

      Toney has caught 43 passes for 484 yards and two touchdowns in his Florida career. He also has 39 carries for 363 yards and a score, and he’s even thrown for a touchdown, tossing a 20-yard score against Mississippi State last season.

      Against Tennessee, Toney caught a seven-yard pass and ripped off a 34-yard run last season. In 2017, he pulled down four receptions for 40 yards and had a five-yard run.

      Tennessee and Florida will kick off at noon Eastern down in Gainesville on Saturday, September 21st.

        Photo by Jake Nichols/RTI

        RTI contributor Robert Hughes is the author of this article 

        Three weeks into Tennessee’s football season, the Vols’ leader in interceptions and total takeaways comes from a familiar face but an unexpected name: running-back-turned-linebacker Jeremy Banks.

        After intercepting two passes against UT-Chattanooga on Saturday, the sophomore seems to finally be introducing himself as a legitimate defensive player for the Vols, much to the pleasure of Tennessee head football head coach Jeremy Pruitt. According to Pruitt, Banks’ first two career interceptions come as a product of both proper preparation and a play-making past.

        “I’m glad that Jeremy (Banks) got to play, and he’s a guy that is still learning what it takes to be a good football player at the collegiate level,” Pruitt said after Saturday’s 45-0 win for the Vols. “He’s learning about the time you have to put in on your own to get prepared, and all of that comes with maturity and being around guys that know how to do things the right way.

        “One thing about guys that handled the ball in high school and play defense in college, they get turnovers. They’re used to handling the ball, and you saw that in a running back getting two interceptions today.”

        Banks began his Tennessee career on offense, joining the Vols as part of their 2018 signing class as a running back. And he began the 2018 season at that position as well. But fumbling issues spurred a move over to linebacker midway through the season. But Banks didn’t stay at linebacker for very long, and he was switched back to offense by November.

        All through the spring and most of fall camp, Banks stayed at running back in 2019. But just over a week before the start of UT’s 2019 season, Banks was switched back to linebacker after senior Daniel Bituli had to undergo a minor procedure on his knee.

        The sophomore has played at linebacker in every game to start the 2019 season, and his potential finally truly flashed on Saturday against UTC.

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        Banks’ inexperience on the defensive side of the ball is still apparent, but his ball-hawking skills proved to mitigate some of the technical deficiencies that he still possesses.

        “He’s a guy that continues to improve, and I’m glad he was in the right spot one time,” Pruitt added. “The second [interception] he probably didn’t have nearly as good of coverage, but it was good to see that [he got the interception].”

        Teammate and fellow linebacker Daniel Bituli, who played his first game of the 2019 season after coming back from the aforementioned minor knee procedure, stated that he’s been trying to convince Banks to stay at linebacker because he sees a bright future for him at that position.

        After Saturday’s performance, Bituli thinks Banks will definitely listen.

        “For sure. He loves contact, we all see that,” Bituli said of Banks. “He’s a great athlete, and I feel that he can do both positions, but as far as being a linebacker, I love seeing him in that linebacker room because he brings a lot to that room, and I’m glad to have him.”

        If any doubt remained as to whether or not Banks would ever return to running back, Pruitt jokingly added that the first UTC player to make contact with Banks after his interception managed to tackle the former tailback. “Most good running backs make the first one miss,” Pruitt added.

        Regardless, Banks’ two interceptions give him the team lead for the season, and he has the same amount of career interceptions now as senior safety Nigel Warrior.

        Tennessee only forced one turnover in its first two games of the season, so Saturday’s five takeaways, including Banks’ two interceptions, proved to be a major step in the right direction.

        The Volunteers will take on the Florida Gators next weekend, and improved play from Banks and the rest of the defensive unit will be crucial if the Vols hope to win in Gainesville for the first time since 2003.

          Photo by Jake Nichols/RTI

          For the first time this season, the Vols have been able to celebrate a victory after the end of a game.

          Tennessee handed FCS opponent UT-Chattanooga a resounding 45-0 beat down on Saturday. The Vols forced five turnovers and blocked a punt, and six different Vols found the end zone during the game. That all led to Tennessee’s first win of the 2019 season after a disappointing start to the year.

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          The RTI team grades Tennessee’s performance on a position-by-position basis after every game. Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee share their grades after the Vols’ first win of the 2019 season on Saturday.

          Here are our marks from Tennessee’s 45-0 win over the Mocs.

            Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

            For the first time this season, Tennessee will be an underdog prior to kick-off of a football game. And they’re pretty sizable underdogs for their next game at that.

            The Vols (1-2) have opened up as nearly two touchdown underdogs to No. 9 Florida (3-0) ahead of Saturday’s match-up in Gainesville. The Gators have opened up as 12.5-point favorites over Tennessee according to Vegas Insider, marking the first time all season Tennessee has started out as an underdog for a game.

            Though Tennessee has been favorites in their first three games of the season, they’ve only managed to win one of those contests. The Vols picked up their first win of the 2019 season on Saturday, defeating FCS opponent UT-Chattanooga by a score of 45-0. Tennessee lost 38-30 to Georgia State and 29-26 in double overtime to BYU to start the season.

            Florida enters Saturday’s match-up with a perfect 3-0 record, though they’ve looked far from unbeatable to start the year. The Gators escaped Week 1 with a 24-20 victory over Miami thanks to 10 sacks by their defense against the Hurricanes, and Florida had to rally from an 11-point deficit to defeat Kentucky in Lexington on Saturday, beating the Wildcats 29-21. During their win over Kentucky, Florida lost their starting quarterback, Feleipe Franks, for the rest of the season after he dislocated his right ankle. Florida’s other win came over FCS opponent UT-Martin, a 45-0 shutout victory.

            Last year, Florida came into Knoxville as favorites and trounced the Vols. Tennessee gave the ball away six times, and the Gators took advantage of the Vols’ sloppy play, grabbing an early lead and never looking back. At one point in the third quarter, Florida led 33-3. They wound up beating the Vols by a score of 47-21.

            Since defeating Florida in 2016 and ending an 11-game losing streak to the Gators, the Vols haven’t been able to beat their SEC East rival since. Florida avenged that loss on a Hail Mary touchdown as time expired in 2017, winning 26-20. Then there was last year’s dominating victory for the Gators as well.

            All in all, Florida has won 13 of the last 14 games against Tennessee, and the Vols haven’t won in The Swamp since 2003.

            Saturday’s contest will be Tennessee’s first SEC game of the year, and it will be their first road trip of the season. The game will mark the second conference match-up of the 2019 season for the Gators. The Vols enter their match-up against Florida with a losing record for the first time since the SEC split into divisions in 1992. The last time Tennessee had a losing record before facing the Gators was back in 1977. The Vols were 2-4 before taking on Florida that season, and the No. 19 Gators prevailed 27-17 in Gainesville.

            The Vols and Gators will kick-off at noon Eastern on Saturday, September 21st. The game will be televised on ESPN.

              Photo by Jake Nichols/RTI

              Everything that could have gone wrong for Tennessee during the first two weeks of the season went wrong.

              Whether it was the performance on the field, a boat from the Vol Navy sinking, or even a member of the Pride of the Southland Band passing out during the halftime performance, everything went wrong over the course of a 14-day span for the Vols.

              Week one’s loss to a Sun Belt team that had never beaten a power five opponent was the result of poor effort and the inability to line up correctly on the defensive side of the ball. Against BYU, it was poor quarterback play and a defensive gaffe that resulted in Tennessee’s first 0-2 start since 1988.

              But on day No. 21 of Jeremy Pruitt’s second season as head coach, after everything had gone wrong to begin the year, everything finally went right.

              “It’s really nice for these guys,” Pruitt said of the win following the game. “We got a good win and got five turnovers today, which was very important.

              “We didn’t turn the ball over, which was probably the difference in the game. We created some opportunities in special teams.”

              Turnovers had been an issue for the Vols through the first two games of the season. Against Georgia State and BYU, Tennessee produced a grand total of one turnover, which came on a sack-fumble from LaTrell Bumphus in the season-opener. Against the Cougars, the closest UT came to a forced turnover was when a snap hit a receiver streaking across the field in motion. But BYU recovered the botched snap.

              On Saturday, Tennessee intercepted four passes, recovered a fumble, and blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown.

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              “We’ve not really changed the way we’ve coached,” Pruitt responded when asked about the five turnovers his defense forced against the Mocs. “It seems like when you get turnovers sometimes it comes in bunches.

              “There’s a certain attitude and a way that you play that, to me, indicates whether you get turnovers or not. If you’re running around hitting people, or if you get your hands up and you bat balls, if you’ve got a lot of people swarming and peppering the ball carrier, there seems to be more balls out.”

              The defense had struggled to force turnovers to begin the season, but the offense had struggled to hold on to the football.

              Against Georgia State, Ty Chandler fumbled once while Jarrett Guarantano threw an interception and fumbled while being sacked. Then against BYU, Guarantano threw his third interception of the season. The redshirt junior threw three picks all of last season, but he had tossed two picks in the first two games of 2019.

              On Saturday against UTC, Guarantano only attempted eight passes, but he was efficient nonetheless. Guarantano completed seven passes for 142 yards and a career-high three touchdown passes.

              “We came out and executed pretty well,” Guarantano said after the game. “There are obviously things that we need to clean up and fix, but going into this game, we wanted to harp on details, and we wanted to harp on toughness. I think we got some of that done, but we’re going back to the drawing board.”

              The previous two weeks have been rough on the redshirt junior out of New Jersey. Guarantano struggled mightily against Georgia State and BYU, causing fans to call for his job.

              Though Guarantano said he learned more about himself during a time period he described as something he’s never been through, the confidence in him throughout Tennessee’s program never swayed.

              “Jarrett is our quarterback, and he’ll be our quarterback until we decide that he’s not,” Pruitt said. “He deserves to be our quarterback; he’s outplayed everybody.”

              Guarantano himself didn’t lose confidence, either.

              “No, I wasn’t raised that way,” Guarantano added when asked if his confidence ever wavered following the slow start. “I’m happy to get over the hump and start to feel like myself again.”

              Guarantano regaining confidence heading into Tennessee’s game with Florida next week was of the utmost importance, but so was getting the backup quarterbacks some reps. History tells us that at some point, Guarantano is going to miss time due to injury. That’s been the case the previous two years as a result of Guarantano being relentlessly beat up behind a poor offensive line.

              Last year, though, the Vols had Keller Chryst — a graduate transfer from Stanford who had plenty of playing experience under his belt. The backups this year, however, had never taken a snap at the collegiate level until Saturday.

              “We put Brian (Maurer) in because we had a few more run plays for Brian, which you saw later on in the game,” Pruitt said. “That had nothing to do with who has out-practiced who.

              “The last two weeks, we were going to put J.T. (Shrout) in the game first, but Brian had a few run plays in there that we were going to let him do. So, we decided to go that route.”

              Despite being 0-of-2 through the air, Maurer rushed for his first career collegiate touchdown to put the Vols up 45-0 in the third quarter. The true freshman rushed for 16 yards on four carries.

              Shrout’s Tennessee debut wasn’t as smooth. The redshirt freshman finished the afternoon 3-of-9 through the air for 23 yards. Shrout got off to a slow start, misfiring on his first three collegiate attempts. On his first attempt, he was picked off after missing the intended receiver high, but he was bailed out on a roughing the passer call. Shrout would then complete three of his next five attempts, setting up Brent Cimaglia to nail a 34-yard touchdown.

              “They both did some good things today, and they both also made some horrible decisions today, but that’s expected,” Pruitt stated. “Today was their first opportunities, which is why we’ve been wanting to get them out there.”

              Saturday marked a step in the right direction. It was a 45-0 win in which Tennessee was clearly the superior team, but it was also a game the Vols needed to check off multiple boxes. Tennessee did just that by forcing turnovers, taking care of the football, instilling confidence in the starting quarterback, getting the backup quarterbacks their first taste of college football, and even getting senior linebacker Daniel Bituli back from injury.

              The beginning of Year Two under Jeremy Pruitt was abysmal and embarrassing. But the season that matters most begins next Saturday in the Swamp, and the Vols can rewrite their script for the year.