KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Despite a disappointing result last week versus No. 3/3 Georgia, Tennessee saw positive sparks on both sides of the ball to propel the team confidently forward as it prepares for another SEC battle this Saturday against Mississippi State.
The Vols welcome the Bulldogs to Neyland for a Noon (ET) game, which will be broadcast on the SEC Network with Taylor Zarzour (PxP), Matt Stinchcomb (Analyst) and Alyssa Lang (Sideline) on the call.
“Offensively, we moved the ball in the first half, created some explosive plays, and had some success running the football,” said head coach Jeremy Pruitt during his Monday press conference. “I am excited to see that we have guys up front that are trying to finish people and trying to put them into the ground. That’s a long ways from where we started 22 months ago.”
Coming off the first start from a true freshman quarterback since Will McBride started against Missouri on Nov. 11, 2017, by Ocala, Fla., native, Brian Maurer, the Vols offense got a spark from its senior wideouts Jauan Jennings (114) and Marquez Callaway (105) who combined for 219 receiving yards. It marked the first UT duo to each record 100-plus receiving yards in a game since Nov. 10, 2012 when Justin Hunter (141) and Mychal Rivera (129) accomplished the feat against Missouri.
Those energizing catches give Pruitt confidence moving forward with either Maurer or redshirt junior Jarrett Guarantano at quarterback.
Maurer had 205 yards and two touchdowns in the first half against one of the SEC’s top defenses and his first-ever completion inside Neyland Stadium was a 73-yard touchdown to Callaway.
“(Maurer) did step in there and make some nice throws, and I thought our kids rallied around him pretty well,” Pruitt said during a Monday press conference. “I thought he had really good energy; he did some nice things, especially early on. He made some really nice throws and got the ball out of his hand. But, he also made some mistakes too. He’s got to learn from them and not make the same mistakes again.
Pruitt would not commit to naming a starter for Saturday, saying “We’re going to see how this week goes.”
He added: “I think (Maurer) would really have to have a bad week of practice not to, but we’ll see how the week goes.”
On the season, Maurer has completed 18 of 41 pass attempts for 303 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
Guarantano has completed 61 of 98 attempts for 740 yards and sevent scores with four picks.
Jordan Back in Action
On the ground, the Vols saw some notable work from junior Tim Jordan who led UT with a season-high nine attempts and 47 rushing yards against UGA.
“Tim Jordan, to me, is a really good competitor,” Pruitt said. “He’s worked hard all year; he got hurt early in the Georgia State game, and kind of didn’t get an opportunity to play there for a couple weeks. But, he’s healthy now and Tim had some really good tough runs in the game.”
Last season, Jordan finished second on the team with 522 yards on 132 carries.
Bituli and To’o To’o Shoulder Linebacker Load
The Vols will lack depth the rest of the season at inside linebacker following the departure of three players at the position in recent weeks. However, Tennessee’s two starting inside linebackers have proven to be two of the Vols’ top players regardless of position in senior Daniel Bituli and freshman phenom Henry To’o To’o.
Bituli missed the first two games and played sparingly in the win over UTC after recovering from knee surgery, but he has had an impact since returning. He had two sacks at Florida and six tackles versus Georgia. He has led the Vols in tackles in the past two seasons and has 192 stops over 32 career games with 21 starts.
To’o To’o has made a name for himself with his sideline to sideline speed and his ability to process information quickly. He has started all five games this season and ranks second on the Vols with 32 tackles to go along with a team-high 2.5 TFLs.
Redshirt freshman J.J. Peterson is expected to be the primary backup at both inside linebacker spots this weekend.