AUBURN, Ala. — Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt grew emotional in the postgame press conference at Georgia two weeks ago as he insisted his team is getting better every day. On Saturday, that improvement was on display for all to see.
An 11-game losing streak in SEC play was snapped on the plains of Auburn as the unranked Vols gave Pruitt his first conference victory as they downed the Tigers 30-24 in front of 84,589 fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Tennessee evened its overall record at 3-3 and is 1-2 in SEC play. Auburn lost its second game in a row and fell to 4-3, 1-3 in conference.
“Our guys showed a lot of fight today because we beat a really good football team,” Pruitt said. “If we execute and raise our level of fight, we have a chance to have a very good football team. I don’t think we played very well at certain times but our guys kind of kept their poise, fought a little bit harder and played with a little better technique.”
Tennessee sold out its allotment of 5,000 tickets for the Auburn game, and the orange-clad fans who made their way to the Plains celebrated with their team in the corner of the end zone at the contest’s conclusion. Pruitt said success is something he wants the fans to get used to.
“There is no question about the spirit and the passion for University of Tennessee football,” he said. “I’ve seen it ever since I’ve been here on December 7. Our fan base is hungry and they should be. I talk to our players all the time about how they have been playing football long before we got to Tennessee and they will be playing it a long time after we are gone. Our job is to make it better than when we found it and that is what we are planning on doing for our fans.”
Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano had a career day as he became the first UT quarterback since Josh Dobbs in 2016 to throw for over 300 yards as he finished the day 21-of-32 for 328 yards and 2 touchdowns. He spread the ball all over the field, completing passes to nine different receivers led by Josh Palmer’s 84 yards and Jauan Jennings who caught 5 passes for 71 yards.
The Tigers outgained Tennessee 448-396 in total offense but were haunted by three turnovers which the Volunteers turned into 14 points. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham was harassed all day as he was 28-of-45 for 322 yards, but he was picked off twice and sacked twice. Auburn couldn’t get its running game going at all as the home team had only 126 yards on the ground, led by 44 by Anthony Schwartz who is listed as a wide receiver.
Auburn used a 14-play drive on the first series of the game and punched it into the end zone on a 1-yard run by Chandler Cox. The Volunteers answered on their first possession of the game as Brent Cimaglia connected on a 42-yard field goal. Auburn went up 10-3 when Anders Carlson booted through a 20-yard field goal and that was how things stood at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter had a little bit of everything for both teams. Cimaglia lined up for a 48-yard attempt, but Marlon Davidson got a hand on it for the block and the Tigers got the ball at the UT 47. They didn’t keep it for very long, however, as Bryce Thompson stepped in front of a Stidham pass for the pick and returned it six yards. Tennessee turned defense into offense as Guarantano found a wide open Ty Chandler in the middle of the field and he did the rest, running 42 yards for the score to knot things up at 10-10 after Cimaglia’s point after.
Stidham threw another interception as this time it was Jonathan Kongbo who had the big defensive play as the 6-5, 254-pound senior ran 10 yards with the ball to the 37-yard line. The Volunteers’ offense stalled and Tennessee was forced to punt. The Tigers didn’t need very much time to retake the lead as Stidham hit Schwartz who did the rest, racing 76 yards for the score.
Punter Joe Doyle continues to come up big for Tennessee as he nailed a 64-yard punt that was downed on the two. Then the defense forced an Auburn three-and-out to get the ball back. Tennessee was able to get points in its two-minute offense as Cimaglia was good on a 45-yard attempt to pull the Vols to within four, 17-13. That was the score at halftime.
Tennessee claimed the lead, its first against an SEC opponent this year, late in the third quarter. The Volunteers sustained a long drive which was highlighted by a 37-yard reception by Palmer to the Tigers’ 25-yard line. The six-minute drive ended when Jennings wrestled a pass away from an Auburn defender in the corner of the end zone on the next play as Tennessee went up 20-17. The Vols were a perfect 4-of-4 on third downs on the drive.
The defense came through again as Stidham was clobbered on a sack by Kyle Phillips and Alexis Johnson Jr. and the ball squirted loose. During the scrum to try to recover it, the ball bounced to the 8-yard line and Alontae Taylor picked it up and ran in for the score. The play was reviewed but the call stood and Tennessee was suddenly up by 10 at 27-17.
Auburn attempted a 54-yard field goal by Carlson on the first play of the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t even close to being successful. That seemed to give Tennessee a little extra pep early in the final frame as the two teams swapped possessions which included the Vols’ defense allowing only one yard to Auburn on their drive. Tennessee was able to produce points on its second offensive possession in the fourth as Cimaglia hit a 20-yard field goal to put his team up 30-17 with 9:04 to play.
The Tigers were able to get into scoring position as they drove to the Tennessee 25-yard line. Facing a fourth and four, Deandre Johnson was able to get through the line and dump Stidham for a seven-yard loss and the ball went over the Vols on downs.
Auburn was able to get the ball again late in the contest and pulled to within a score when Stidham threw to Seth Williams for the touchdown to make it 30-24. The Tigers attempted the onside kick but Jennings fell on it at the Auburn 48-yard line and Tennessee was able to run out the clock.
Tennessee will enjoy the big win over Auburn but must turn their attention very quickly to their toughest test of the year next week as top-ranked Alabama comes to Neyland Stadium for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
Tennessee 30, No. 21 Auburn 24
Tennessee 3 10 14 3 — 30
Auburn 10 7 0 7 — 24
AUB — Cox 1-run (Carlson kick), 9:44
TEN — Cimaglia 42-FG, 5:24
AUB — Carlson 20-FG, 2:20
TEN — Chandler 42-pass from Guarantano (Cimaglia kick), 10:44
AUB — Schwartz 76-pass from Stidham (Carlson kick), 3:26
TEN — Cimaglia 45-FG, :07
TEN — Jennings 25-pass from Guarantano (Cimaglia kick), 3:25
TEN — A. Taylor 8-fumble return (Cimaglia kick), 2:34
TEN — Cimaglia 20-FG, 9:04
AUB — S. Williams 14-pass from Stidham (Carlson kick), :37
A — 84,586.
First Down 16 22
Rushes-yards 36-68 34-126
Passing 328 322
Att-Comp-Int 32-21-0 46-28-2
Return Yards 0 30
Total Offense 396 448
Punts 4-42.75 3-44.33
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 3-1
Penalties-Yards 5-40 5-38
Time of Possession 34:01 25:59
RUSHING — Tennessee, Chandler 16-50, Jordan 13-26, London 1-0, (Team) 1-(minus 2), Guarantano 5-(minus 6). Auburn, Schwartz 3-44, Whitlow 12-42, M.Miller 6-32, Shivers 1-8, R.Davis 1-5, K.Martin 2-3, Cox 1-1, (Team) 1-(minus 2), Stidham 7-(minus 7).
PASSING — Tennessee, Guarantano 21-32-0-328. Auburn, Stidham 28-45-2-322, (Team) 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING — Tennessee, Jennings 5-71, Chandler 5-62, Palmer 3-84, Callaway 2-55, Jordan 2-23, Wolf 1-12, B.Johnson 1-10, Murphy 1-7, Wood-Anderson 1-4. Auburn, R.Davis 7-57, M.Miller 6-57, S.Williams 5-85, Schwartz 2-83, Slayton 2-24, Cannella 2-9, Cox 1-6, Whitlow 1-3, K.Martin 1-0, Shivers 1-(minus 2).
MISSED FIELD GOALS — Tennessee, Cimaglia 48. Auburn, Carlson 54.