Vols re­spond vic­to­ri­ously to coaches’ chal­lenges

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - NFL BLITZ - BY GENE HEN­LEY STAFF WRITER

KNOXVILLE — Things were so dif­fer­ent a week ear­lier.

The much-ma­ligned Ten­nessee of­fen­sive line faced a much dif­fer­ent set of ques­tions then than af­ter Satur­day’s 24-7 win over Ken­tucky.

Dur­ing the week af­ter the Vol­un­teers man­aged only 20 rush­ing yards on 26 car­ries in a 14-3 win over Char­lotte, the line­men were chal­lenged at ev­ery turn to be bet­ter. The coach­ing staff chal­lenged them to be bet­ter as a unit.

The coaches also chal­lenged ev­ery­one in the rush­ing at­tack to be more ef­fec­tive than Ken­tucky, which came into the game ranked 67 spots ahead of the Vols in yards per game (199.6 to 127.7).

Chal­lenge ac­cepted, and chal­lenge ac­cepted.

The line cre­ated the holes nec­es­sary for Ten­nessee run­ning backs to pick up 215 yards — a sea­son high against a Power Five con­fer­ence op­po­nent — against the 12th-ranked Wild­cats. It also cre­ated time for quar­ter­back Jar­rett Guar­an­tano to throw, and he was sacked only once while hav­ing an ef­fi­cient day throw­ing the ball, com­plet­ing 12 of his 20 passes for 197 yards and a score.

Ten­nessee out­rushed the Wild­cats 215-77.

“That was def­i­nitely a chal­lenge the coaches brought to us,” sopho­more cen­ter Ryan John­son said. “As an of­fen­sive line we re­ally want to be a smash­mouth foot­ball team, a down­hill foot­ball team, and to be able to run the ball.

“The of­fen­sive line, the run­ning backs and the quar­ter­back are all a part of that, and I’ve got to give credit to ev­ery­one. We just put our heads down and grinded and kept chop­ping at it, and we got go­ing.”

With the line keep­ing Guar­an­tano up­right, the Vols were able to move the ball down­field ef­fec­tively, hit­ting on a num­ber of chunk plays along the way. There was the 29-yard run by Ty Chan­dler, who fin­ished with 89 yards rush­ing; there was the 22-yard run by Tim Jor­dan, who had 63 yards and a score. Jor­dan Mur­phy had only two touches, but one was a 38-yard re­cep­tion and the other was a 59-yard run on an end-around that led to the fi­nal touch­down.

Guar­an­tano av­er­aged more than 16 yards per com­ple­tion and nearly 10 yards per at­tempt.

“It re­ally starts with our game plan,” Ten­nessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “Our of­fen­sive coaches did a re­ally good job early in the week and knew what they wanted to do. I think our kids did a re­ally good job ex­e­cut­ing bet­ter pro­tec­tion. The quar­ter­back knew what he was do­ing with the foot­ball and threw the ball where only we could catch it. Our re­ceivers made some good plays.”

Vols notes

Hav­ing not played in a game since an an­kle in­jury against Ge­or­gia, safety Micah Aber­nathy had a solid re­turn to the lineup for the Vols, fin­ish­ing with seven tack­les. … Dar­rell Tay­lor’s four sacks were a half-sack away from a school record, set by Corey Miller against Ken­tucky in 2013. … Pruitt said he thought de­fen­sive back Bryce Thomp­son, who had a scary fall while de­fend­ing a pass late in the game, would be fine: “He just hit his head over on the side­line.” Thomp­son lay mo­tion­less on the side­line af­ter the awk­ward col­li­sion.

Con­tact Gene Hen­ley at ghen­ley@times­freep­ress.com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @gene­hen­ley3.


Ten­nessee’s Mar­cus Ta­tum (68) and Drew Rich­mond (51) block for quar­ter­back Jar­rett Guar­an­tano, left, against Ken­tucky in the third quar­ter of Satur­day’s Vols win.


Ten­nessee’s Tim Jor­dan finds a hole against Ken­tucky dur­ing the fourth quar­ter Satur­day. Jor­dan ran for 63 yards and a touch­down.

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