Tennessee’s defense set the tone and the rushing attack stole the show on Saturday afternoon.
The Vols rolled to a 35-12 victory over Missouri in the 2020 home opener inside Neyland Stadium.
“I know our guys love playing in Neyland Stadium,” Tennessee Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “They love playing in front of our fans. Our fans travel and (our players) look for them when they leave the hotel and come to the stadiums. The environment, and our fans are so passionate about Tennessee Football, it energizes us.”
It was Tennessee’s eighth straight win dating back to last season.
“I’m really proud of our players and our assistant coaches for keeping on finding a way and improving each week,” Pruitt said. “We really had a chance to practice with everybody there this week, so it was a huge bonus for us.”
Eric Gray and Ty Chandler were a 1-2 punch on the ground for the Vols offensively behind a strong offensive line effort – including the debut of transfer Cade Mays.
Gray finished with 105 yards on 16 carries, while Chandler had 90 yards on 19 carries.
However, Pruitt still saw room for improvement against the Tigers.
“I thought offensively, on the line of scrimmage, we controlled the line of scrimmage for a while in the run game, but I feel like there were too many licks on the quarterback,” Pruitt said. “That’s something that’s got to be addressed. There’s probably three times during the game that Missouri had a chance to get their hands on the ball and we’ve got to eliminate that.”
Jarrett Guarantano had a strong performance from the quarterback position as he went 14-of-23 passing for 190 yards and a score while adding 25 yards and two scores on the ground.
In all, Tennessee had 247 rushing yards.
Josh Palmer had four catches for 71 yards to lead Tennessee’s receivers.
Defensively, the Vols were dominant in the first half holding Missouri to just 13 yards in the first 15 minutes. From there, they limited the Tigers’ opportunities.
Trevon Flowers had 10 total tackles, while Theo Jackson had an interception.
In the early going, it was all Tennessee.
Chandler opened the scoring five minutes into the game with a three-yard touchdown run that closed out a 14-play drive.
Tennessee pushed the lead out to 14-0 in the opening seconds of the second quarter as Gray scored on a 20-yard run.
Missouri’s Harrison Mevis added a pair of field goals to trim the gap to eight points, but right before half Tennessee seized momentum back.
Guarantano found Gray for a 13-yard pass with 44 ticks left on the clock as the Vols maintained a 21-6 advantage at the half.
After Tennessee forced a Missouri punt to open the second half, the Tennessee offense embarked on a methodical drive by going 92 yards over 16 plays.
The drive was capped when Guarantano snuck throw the line to push the lead to 22 points.
Missouri added a touchdown in the final minutes of the third quarter with a Larry Rountree scamper, but Tennessee answered with another Guarantano sneak into the endzone to cap the scoring.
Through two games, Pruitt is liking what he is seeing from his team.
“We have a bunch of guys that are winners. They’re good kids, good men, that work hard. They’ve got an edge about them when it comes to doing the right thing and competing. They’re coachable. It’s fun to be around them. It is for me to be around them. They might say the opposite about me, but I love coaching these guys; I love the men on our staff, everybody we’ve got men and women, and everybody in our organization. It’s exciting times for me to get up and go to work every day and be around everyone.”
Tennessee now turns attention to a road trip to Athens, GA to take on Georgia.
“The last two years we’ve played them they’ve had a really good football team,” Pruitt said. “I’m sure, I’ve not even watched them, but I’m sure they’ll have a really good football team this year. They’ve got good players; they’ve got good coaches, but we do too. That’s why I came to UT, and that’s why these players came to Tennessee—to play in big games like this.”
Photos courtesy of Tennessee Sports Information