KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Jeremy Pruitt earned his first win as a collegiate head coach in dominant fashion as the Tennessee Volunteers defeated in-state foe ETSU 59-3 Saturday evening at Neyland Stadium.
“To me, I don’t see this any different than any game I’ve ever coached in,” Pruitt said. “I’m happy we won, and you’ll find out (about me) the more games we win, I’m a little more ticked. There’s a standard we want to play to. Everything wasn’t perfect this week. Everything wasn’t perfect in the last couple of days, and we were trying to get things right. We’re learning from it, and I think it’ll make us a better football team, and it’s going to make us a better football program.”
Six Vols recorded the first touchdowns of their respective Tennessee careers in the win, led by running backs Jeremy Banks and Madre London with two rushing scores apiece. Josh Palmer entered the checkerboards on a 20-yard end-around rush, and Jordan Murphyhauled in a 50-yard touchdown pass to round out UT’s offensive touchdowns.
Junior defensive back Marquill Osborne found the end zone for the first time on a blocked punt return, while redshirt-junior linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. added a defensive touchdown with his first-career pick-six.
Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Jarrett Guarantano led the passing attack for the Big Orange, connecting on 8-of-13 passes for 154 yards. Grad transfer QB Keller Chryst saw action for the second-straight week and completed all three of his passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore RB Tim Jordan led all players in rushing with 65 yards in 15 attempts on the ground, while Marquez Callaway logged a game-high five catches and 78 yards through the air.
Sophomore placekicker Brent Cimaglia opened the scoring for UT on a 26-yard field goal with 9:32 remaining in the first quarter. The Vols first entered the red zone on a 51-yard pass from Guarantano to Palmer – the longest play for UT this season.
Tennessee (1-1) scored its first touchdown at Neyland Stadium in 2018 on a blocked punt return by Osborne. Recovering his own block at the eight-yard line, the junior DB high-stepped into the endzone to put the Vols ahead 10-0 with 2:49 left in the opening frame.
The game entered a weather delay at the 12:01 mark of the second quarter as the clock read 4:52 p.m. Play resumed at 5:40 p.m. for a total delay of 48 minutes.
Following the delay, UT put together a quick six-play, 82-yard drive over 2:34 that was capped off by a one-yard Banks rushing TD. The touchdown was set up by a 51-yard bomb, caught by Callaway despite pass interference from ETSU defensive back Jeremy Lewis.
On the first play of the ensuing Buccaneer drive, freshman DB Bryce Thompson nabbed his first-career interception and returned it 21 yards before stepping out-of-bounds at the three-yard line. Banks went into the checkerboards on the very next play to give the Vols a 24-0 edge with 9:12 remaining in the half.
Kirkland Jr. made it a 31-0 lead for the Vols with his first-career pick-six on the next ETSU drive. The Indianapolis, Ind. native intercepted a pass at the 33-yard line, broke a tackle and sprinted into the endzone for UT’s second non-offensive touchdown of the day.
Chryst entered the game with 6:04 left in the second quarter, leading the Vols on a seven-play, 69-yard touchdown drive that spanned 3:04 of game time. Chryst completed his first pass attempt as a Vol for 12 yards to tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson before the drive was finished off on a 20-yard end-around rush by Palmer. Following Cimaglia’s fifth successful PAT, the Vols went up 38-0 and took that lead into the halftime locker room.
Guarantano led the opening drive of the second half as UT marched down the field for a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown series. London broke off a 34-yard rush before scoring his first TD as a Vol on a three-yard scamper, advancing Tennessee’s lead to 45-0. ETSU (1-1) broke up the shutout on a 39-yard field goal from JJ Jerman at the 4:57 mark of the third quarter, and neither team was able to score for the remainder of the period.
Chryst fired the first touchdown of his UT career early in the fourth quarter, finding a wide-open Murphy down the sideline for a 50-yard scoring connection with 13:34 left in the game. London notched the final TD of the night on a four-yard rush with 3:20 remaining. The last scoring drive started following Micah Abernathy’s fumble recovery on a muffed punt.
Junior newcomer Emmit Gooden led Tennessee with eight total tackles on the defensive line, including UT’s lone sack and a team-high three tackles for loss. In addition to his first-career interception, Thompson recorded two tackles for loss for the Volunteers. As a unit, the Vols held ETSU to 69 passing yards and limited the Buccaneers to 2-of-15 on third-down conversions.
Tennessee returns to action next Saturday as the UTEP Miners visit Neyland Stadium. The game is set for a noon kickoff and will be broadcast on SEC Network.