Vols respond victoriously to coaches’ challenges
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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.