Tennessee football: Five takeaways from Vols’ 20-10 win vs. Mississippi St. – All for Tennessee

Six games in, Tennessee football beat the Mississippi State Bulldogs for its first FBS win. Here are our takeaways from the Volunteers’ victory against MSU.

Well, they finally did it. Tennessee football wore the orange jerseys and orange pants to upset the Mississippi State Bulldogs Saturday afternoon for its first win over an FBS team, and it came against a Power Five team in the SEC at that. The Vols entered the game 1-4 and faced an MSU team coming off a bye.

As a result, they have a lot to celebrate about their win against a team that was 3-2 coming in. With the win, they not only move to 2-4, but they also move to 1-2 in the conference. Meanwhile, MSU falls to 3-3 and 1-2 in the league.

It’s hard to overstate how big of a win this is, as it puts Jeremy Pruitt’s team back in the bowl picture given their November schedule, even if it is still of an uphill climb. But we’ll get to that later, as they have to face the Alabama Crimson Tide next week. Here five takeaways from Tennessee football’s gigantic upset win over Mississippi State.

Defense played a complete game.

Joe Moorhead made the questionable decision to start Tommy Stevens in the first half. But Stevens went six-of-11 with no touchdowns and two interceptions. So down 10-3 at halftime, he put in Garrett Shrader in the second half. And the defense got another interception and took it to the fourth quarter up 13-3.

Finally, they wilted a bit, allowing a touchdown drive after a targeting call on Henry To’o To’o. But they responded with a final stand to hold on for the 20-10 victory. MSU had only 267 yards of total offense, allowed nine tackles for a loss and six sacks and committed three turnovers. This group came through and withstood everything in this game, and for that they deserve credit.

Backups made all the plays on offense.

The headline is the quarterback. Brian Maurer, after throwing two red zone interceptions and suffering a bad head injury, came out with a stat line of four-of-seven for 61 yards and three carries for 41 yards. All Jarrett Guarantano did was go six of seven for 106 yards and the key touchdown to clinch the game.

That touchdown, though, was to another backup, Tyler Byrd, who hadn’t had a catch all season. Meanwhile, Tim Jordan, the running back who had been playing behind Eric Gray and Ty Chandler for a while, had the first touchdown of the game along with 19 carries for 59 yards overall. So Guarantano is the story, but numerous backups deserve credit for today’s play.

Conservative play-calling paid off.

With Brian Maurer getting hurt and the defense playing very well, Jim Chaney decided to stick to the run game. And he did it a lot. It made sense given the fact that Mississippi State forces lots of turnovers while their offense was struggling to move the ball. This decision paid off in a big way for Tennessee football. The Vols finished the day with 44 carries for 190 yards.

They also ran the clock down in the second half with it and then lured the defense to sleep for a huge third down conversion on a check down pass on their last drive. Right after that came Jarrett Guarantano’s TD pass to Tyler Byrd to seal the deal. It was all because they ran the ball so much, and they actually wore down the MSU defensive line.

Special teams bounced back.

A missed field goal by Brent Cimaglia and a horrible punting performance by Joe Doyle was notable last week. However, Cimaglia returned to his usual self this week with two critical field goals, one of which was from 49 yards out to put them in control.

Meanwhile, Doyle may have returned to what he used to be. He did have one bad 38-yard punt and another punt go into the end zone for a touchback. But for the day, he averaged over 46 yards a punt on four punts, and two of them went inside the 20.

Red zone mistakes are still a problem.

If there’s one criticism, and it’s a big one, Tennessee football continues to make too many mistakes in the red zone. The Vols threw two interceptions down there with Brian Maurer in the first half, but it went beyond that.

In the second half, their lack of faith in the offense in the red zone resulted in Jeremy Pruitt playing extremely conservatively, running it three times as part of an effort to take a two-score lead. They made the field goal from 22 yards out, but turning that into a touchdown could have been a much bigger deal. Outside of that though, improvement was everywhere.

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