KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — As far as his coach is concerned, the numbers looked good for Jarrett Guarantano.
The fifth-year Tennessee quarterback was productive through the air and clutch on the ground, accounting for three touchdowns to lead the Volunteers to a 35-12 victory over Missouri on Saturday.
“There were three times Jarrett didn’t make the right read,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “That’s three out of about 76 (plays). We’ll continue to work hard. We put a lot on him.”
The win was Tennessee’s eighth in a row, tying the Vols (2-0) with Notre Dame for the most among Power Five teams.
Guarantano was an efficient 14 of 23 for 190 yards and a touchdown and had two short touchdown runs as the Vols leaned on their excellent offensive line to control the game.
Eric Gray and Ty Chandler combine for 195 yards on the ground.
However, it was Tennessee’s success rate on third down (6 of 11), fourth down (4 of 4) and in the red zone (5 of 5, all touchdowns) that carried the Vols’ offense.
Tennessee was only 1 of 11 on third down in last week’s win at South Carolina.
“We continue to work hard, but it’s easier to be in third-and-6 inches compared to third-and-16 (yards),” Pruitt said
Gray ran for 105 yards, with a touchdown rushing and receiving. Chandler rolled up 90 yards and a touchdown.
“(Missouri) really stacked the box,” Pruitt said. “We wanted to run the football. We were going to run even against bad looks.”
The Tigers couldn’t limit the run, which opened up Tennessee’s passing game for some big plays as the Vols led 21-6 at intermission.
“(We) didn’t start fast enough on either side of the ball, offensively or defensively,” said Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz. “Really struggled in the first half to stop them and their momentum. And offensively, we’ve got to score touchdowns, we can’t be settling for field goals. Thought we were going to mount a comeback right there in the fourth quarter and then the interception kind of took the wind out of our sails.”
Two fourth-and-1 conversions on the opening drive – both runs by Guarantano – were instrumental in Tennessee’s 7-0 lead. Chandler capped off the 14-play, 75-yard drive with a 3-yard run.
“Fourth down runs have got to be a mindset,” Pruitt said. “In these times (of the pandemic), we’re not living in fear. We’re not playing in fear or coaching in fear.”
“(Vols offensive coordinator Jim) Chaney has about 50 plays,” Guarantano said of the quarterback sneaks. “I’ve gone through every single one. I’m wearing my Johnny Majors shirt today. I wanted to get a couple yards for him.”
Majors, the former Tennessee great player and coach, died in June at 85.
“Our coaches harp on the short-yardage plays,” Guarantano said. “They have trust in us and that gets us excited.” LONG BOOT
Mevis’ 50-yard field goal in the second quarter was the longest for Missouri since Tucker McCain connected from 57 yards in 2018. It was also the longest field goal for a freshman Tigers kicker since Jeff Jacke in 1988.
Gray’s 20-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter allowed the sophomore to become the first Volunteer to score rushing TDs in four consecutive games since quarterback Josh Dobbs in 2016.
Several Tennessee gameday traditions were changed because of COVID-19 protocols. There was a Vol Walk through campus before the game, but with limited fans. The band was planted in the south end zone, with no pregame or halftime on-field opportunities.
Neyland Stadium, which can hold 102,455, was limited to just 21,159 (about 2,000 below what would have been considered a sellout) and distanced throughout.
POLL IMPLICATIONS The Vols are hoping to crack the Top 20 this week.
Missouri: Visits LSU on Saturday.
Tennessee: Travels to No. 4 Georgia Saturday.
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