I think we all knew this game was going to be a big benchmark moving forward on the season. This was a game that would show us what kind of team we would be seeing the rest of this season. It was a game that we knew was very winnable with the weapons and schemes we have, but would Tennessee step up to the plate? If you look past the 20-10 score and look at how the game went, I think that it is clear that the Vols controlled this game.
The defense came out ready to roll forcing Mississippi State to a 3-and-out on their first offensive drive. Then the offense tried to make a statement of their own. Brian Maurer looked great starting the drive with a 28-yard dime to Dominick Wood-Anderson and then running for 5 yards of his own. That momentum did not last too long as Maurer threw an interception in the endzone. The defense did not miss a beat, holding the Bulldogs to -3 yards, another 3-and-out, and another punt. After their small mistake, the offense drove the ball down the field and put the Vols on the board with a 15-yard touchdown run from Tim Jordan. The Tennessee momentum kept on growing as the Vols’ DB Kenneth George Jr. came up with an interception and returned it to the Tennessee 34.
The second quarter of the game did not really see much action. After a Tennessee punt off of the interception, the Bulldogs finally put some points of their own on the board. They capped off a 13-play drive with a 51-yard field goal putting the score at 7-3 Vols. The offense looked to be rolling again as the 68-yard drive was dominated on the ground, ending with another unfortunate interception in the back of the endzone. The Vols’ defense would not be outdone as they got another interception of their own with 2 minutes left in the half. This allowed Tennessee to pick up a few more yards and put Brent Cimaglia in range for a 49-yard field goal to send the Vols in the locker room with a 10-3 lead.
It was a bit of a slow start to the second half as both teams traded punts with one another. Also to note, the Vols sent out Jarrett Guarantano to take the reigns as Brian Maurer’s day was done so he could properly be evaluated for a concussion. But as the momentum was still on Tennessee’s side, they were the first to strike in the 2nd half with another field goal from Cimaglia, this time from 22 yards. The Vols’ defense did not lose a step as Nigel Warrior comes up with their third interception of the day. This lead to both defenses trading punches, having 3 consecutive drives with punts, 2 from the Vols, 1 from the Bulldogs.
Things started to heat back up as we head into the final quarter of the game. Mississippi State finally answered with some points as Garrett Shrader found Deddrick Thomas in the endzone to cut their deficit to 13-10. The Vols lost a big part of the defense on this drive as Henry To’o To’o was ejected for targeting and will have to miss the first half next week in Tuscaloosa. Tennessee got the ball backed up to their own 9-yard line. This did not stop them from putting together an ultimately game-ending drive. After 9 plays and 91 yards, the Vols found the endzone on a 39-yard pass to Tyler Byrd extending the lead to 20-10. Mississippi State started to put a drive together and almost did, but our defense had something to say about that. They were putting the pressure on the Bulldogs and made them settle for a field goal attempt. An attempt that was wide, and locked up the victory for the Vols.
As I said before, I don’t think this game was quite as close as the 20-10 final said on the scoreboard. I think the defense easily played their best game of the year and I hope that foreshadows what is to come the rest of the season. Another positive we can take from this is how well the ground attack looked on the day accumulating 190 rushing yards from 7 different guys. Now we all know that going down to Tuscaloosa next week is going to be difficult, but a game like this is exactly what we needed going into it. We just have to keep building off of this momentum, learn from our mistakes, and keep moving forward.
J. Guarantano: 6/7, 106 yards, 1 TD, 99.0 QBR
T. Jordan: 19 rush, 59 yards, 1 TD
T. Byrd: 3 rec., 56 yards, 1 TD
*Defense: 7 sacks, 10 TFL, 3 INT
G. Shrader: 5/10, 79 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 59.1 QBR
G. Shrader: 13 rush, 62 yards
O. Mitchell: 5 rec., 58 yards
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