It wasn’t a piece of art, but the end result was what the Tennessee football program needed.
The Vols held on for a 20-10 victory over Mississippi State on a cool and cloudy Saturday to claim its first SEC win of 2019.
“That was a really good team win against a good football team,” Tennessee Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “We had some things that didn’t go our way; we had a couple of guys that got banged up and had to leave the game. We turned the ball over some there in the first half in the red area, which made the game a lot closer there toward the end. If you get six points there, that’s a totally different deal. We’ve got to be able to take care of the football.”
“But I thought our guys fought really hard. They’ve been busting their tails all fall camp trying to play like we did today. And I’m sure we didn’t play perfect, but we found a way to win.”
The Tennessee defense set the tone for the day early as the Vols held SEC leading rusher Kylin Hill to just 13 yards on the ground and held Mississippi State to just 121 yards on the ground of the game. As a unit, the Vols recorded seven sacks and three interceptions.
“I feel like our guys worked hard to understand the game plan,” Pruitt said. “The coaches did a nice job. Our guys played hard. To me, they played on the other side of the line of scrimmage, which we need to do more of. And, we covered them some in the back end, and there’s lots of things that go into getting a good pass rush.”
“Some of it, you might get some good pressure, and we scheme somebody up, sometimes you just win one on ones, and sometimes you cover them well enough that they have to hold the ball and there’s nowhere to go with the ball.”
Offensively, Tennessee had to overcome adversity as Brian Maurer left the game with a concussion late in the second quarter. UT, however, turned offense over to Jarrett Guarantano.
Tennessee took a 7-0 lead in the middle of the first quarter as Tim Jordan scored on a 15-yard run to cap off an eight-play drive that took over four minutes off the clock.
In the second quarter, the teams traded field goals as the Bulldogs Jace Christmann kicked a 51-yard field goal that went through after bouncing off the crossbar, and Tennessee’s Brent Cimaglia ended the half with a 49-yard field goal.
The Vols led 10-3 at the half.
After Tennessee’s Cimaglia added a 22-yard field goal in the third quarter, UT maintained a 13-3 advantage heading to the final quarter.
Mississippi State closed the gap midway through the fourth quarter as Deddrick Thomas caught a 17-yard pass from Garrett Shrader with 8:27 remaining. On the ensuing kickoff, a penalty on the Vols started the drive on the nine-yard line.
That, however, didn’t deter the Tennessee attack.
The Vols used a strong run game and some timely passes – including a 39-yard Guarantano pass to Tyler Byrd to secure the win.
Guarantano finished the game 6-of-7 passing for 106 yards, while Maurer was 4-of-7 for 81 yards.
Ty Chandler and Jordan finished with 63 and 59 rushing yards, respectively. Byrd finished with three catches for 56 yards, but none bigger than his final catch.
Tennessee is set to hit the road on Saturday as they travel to Alabama. Kick is set for 9 p.m. (ET).