Tennessee 45, UT-Chattanooga 0.
The football Vols seemed to put it all together Saturday for a victory that wasn’t as close as the score. Now Big Orange Nation can celebrate.
Yes, I know.
It was only Chattanooga.
I caution Tennessee fans to only go as high as they care to fall over this result. Yes, feel better about this team and its performance, but don’t delude yourself into thinking that the Vols are going to march into Gainesville and beat Florida next week. Kickoff is 11 a.m. CT from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, by the way.
But watching this game, you got the sense that maybe this team had finally begun putting the pieces of success together.
Yes, I know, it was only Chattanooga, but ride the wave with me here.
Tennessee looked pretty good in all three phases of the game. Ty Chandler’s 58-yard kickoff return to start the game seemed to get things rolling. The Vols blocked a punt, which led to a score. Tennessee gathered five turnovers (Jeremy Banks had two picks stepping in at linebacker). After almost a disastrous first pass, Jarrett Guarantano got in a groove and completed his next seven in a row, three of them touchdown aerials.
Tennessee rushed for 195 total yards and the Big Orange spread the wealth among its running backs. This was a well-rounded effort by the Vols.
But … it was just Chattanooga.
But let’s be honest, Tennessee could have scored 80 if it wanted to. Vol coach Jeremy Pruitt did the right thing by developing his younger players once his club had rapidly wrested control of the game. Tennessee let off the gas.
Sure, Chattanooga is just a 1-AA team, but it has 15 D-1 transfers on its roster, so it’s not like the Mocs’ lineup was littered with guys who couldn’t play at a higher level.
But this was just Chattanooga. Tennessee should have run them out of Neyland Stadium and, frankly, could have named the score.
Why should Big Orange fans be encouraged? Because this is the kind of performance we should have, and could have seen Aug. 31 against Georgia State. Had Tennessee realized that the schedule actually began with Georgia State two weeks ago, the Vols would have ridden the Panthers out.
Brigham Young, now seems to be better than we thought. The Cougars just beat No. 24 Southern Cal yesterday in overtime, 30-27. Either that, or USC is just not very good. But it’s in BYU’s makeup to take down a ranked team (see its 24-21 win vs. No. 6 Wisconsin on Sept. 15, 2018).
Second, defensively, the alignments seemed to be more stable. So did the communication. I attribute that to the presences of Daniel Bituli at middle linebacker. He only had two stops Saturday, but he probably accounted for a lot more stuff that doesn’t appear in the scorebook.
It’s hard to get a baseline on how quarterbacks Brian Maurer and J.T. Shrout did, given the sample size Saturday, but it was good to get them playing time.
Let’s be honest here, though. Next week, Tennessee faces Florida in The Swamp. The Gators won’t be nearly as forgiving and will probably be 10 times more talented. Florida hasn’t looked like a No. 9 team thus far and really should be 1-2 at this point. Keep in mind, too, that its quarterback Feleipe Franks was lost for the season with a dislocated ankle, a la what we saw with Moises Alou or Robin Venture many years ago.
The Gators rallied to escape Kentucky and will hope to galvanize behind quarterback Kyle Trask. But Florida is reeling a bit, and Tennessee has gained confidence, which it sorely needed. There are reasons to be optimistic, but remember, it was only Chattanooga. UT will have to step up its game in Gainesville.
Remember, this Saturday, it’s Florida.