Updated with more information at 3:15 a.m. on Sept. 15, 2019.
Tennessee over UTCView 56 Photos
KNOXVILLE — It didn't take long for the Tennessee Volunteers to make an impact in each of football's three phases in a 45-0 victory against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Special teams started with the opening kickoff Saturday afternoon in front of 86,208 at Neyland Stadium, with Ty Chandler returning it 58 yards to the UTC 41 to set up a drive he would cap with his own touchdown run. Less than five minutes into the game, Tyler Byrd blocked Gabe Boring's punt on the Mocs' first offensive series and Brandon Johnson recovered the ball and returned it 24 yards for another Tennessee touchdown.
As for their offense, the Vols gained all of their yardage on the opening series on the ground, with Chandler rolling around the left end for a 13-yard score. Defensively, Nigel Warrior's interception on UTC's second possession set up a short scoring drive the Vols capped with Jarrett Guarantano's 12-yard pass to Jauan Jennings.
Add it all up and the Vols led 21-0 just 6:24 into the game — and they never looked back on the way to their first victory of the season.
TENNESSEE 45, UTC 0
Staff writer Gene Henley breaks down the game in bits and pieces.
Although Tennessee was dominant in all three phases, its defense stood by pitching its first shutout in a year and limiting the Mocs to 227 yards. The Volunteers picked off four passes, recovered a fumble and held preseason Football Championship Subdivision All-America receiver Bryce Nunnelly to one catch for 7 yards.
The Vols' five takeaways were their most since Jeremy Pruitt took over as coach before the 2018 season, and the sum matched the combined total from their past five games. The Vols had not forced five turnovers since doing so against Virginia Tech at the Battle for Bristol in 2016.
It came on the opening kickoff, when Ty Chandler's 58-yard return ignited the Vols, who went on to score on the game's opening possession for the second straight week. This time, they never looked back.
A pair of unheralded seniors teamed up when Tyler Byrd flew in and blocked a punt on the Mocs' opening possession. The ball was scooped up by Brandon Johnson and returned 24 yards for a touchdown.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Vols needed a feel-good victory heading into next weekend's Southeastern Conference opener at Florida, and they got it. It's easy to point to the fact that the Mocs were outmanned by their Football Bowl Subdivision host, but Tennessee has been down that road before and fell in a similar situation. This time the Vols took care of business from the start and kept going for a step in the right direction.
It ended a losing streak of four games dating to last year. This season started with an eight-point loss to Georgia State, a heavy underdog, and was followed by a double-overtime defeat against BYU. After three straight home games to open the schedule, the Vols head into Southeastern Conference play next Saturday at Florida.
"That was a good win to be able to build our confidence going into our SEC games," said freshman linebacker Henry To'o To'o, who had two tackles (one for loss). "It was good to be able to feel like we can execute, but there's always room to improve going into those games."
Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt noted last Wednesday that he had been pleased with the team's practices to start the week, and his players followed through by executing well against the Football Championship Subdivision's Mocs (1-2).
"I had seen the intensity of being 0-2," Byrd said. "Coming back each week, it's hard to stay locked in and stay committed to the process, but it was very important to get the good start, to get the win and get some momentum going into the next few games.
"It's going to be tough, so we have to stay focused."
Tennessee's final score came less than three minutes into the third quarter, when freshman backup quarterback Brian Maurer ended a 6-yard run by diving into the end zone. The Vols totaled 360 yards of offense, including 195 on the ground in their second consecutive solid rushing performance.
The defense forced five turnovers — four were interceptions, including two by Jeremy Banks — for their most takeaways since Pruitt took over as coach prior to the 2018 season. Tennessee had not forced five turnovers since doing so against Virginia Tech at the Battle for Bristol in 2016.
UTC drove into Tennessee territory on four of its 10 possessions, but the Vols stepped up in each case. A fumbled snap was recovered by linebacker Darrell Taylor, Kenney Solomon picked off a pass and the other two series resulted in turnovers on downs.
"These guys got a good win," Pruitt said. "Got five turnovers today, which is very important. We didn't turn the ball over. Probably the difference in the game. Created some opportunities with special teams. Those guys did a really nice job running the football against us and created some explosive plays there. But with the turnovers, we were able to keep them out of the end zone.
"We had too many penalties today. Too many dead-ball penalties and we definitely have to eliminate that. It was good we got to play a lot of guys. It's good for them to kind of see where they're at because they'll know the mistakes they made in the game, the things they done the right way. So I don't know how many guys we played, but we had an opportunity to play a lot of guys. So that was good for those guys.
"It was a good day. We've got to be more consistent on both sides of the ball. And we'll do that the more these guys get an opportunity to play."
Guarantano had only seven completions, but he also threw just eight passes and they resulted in 142 yards. In addition to Jennings, the junior connected with Marquez Callaway and Cedric Tillman as he had three touchdown passes in a game for the first time in his Vols career.
Tennessee rushed for 195 yards, with five carries gaining at least 30 yards. Five Vols finished with double-digit receiving yards, with Callaway's 59 leading. Three quarterbacks played, as Maurer had the touchdown run yet didn't complete a pass and fellow freshman J.T. Shrout finished 3-of-9 passing.
Brent Cimaglia made all six extra points and connected from 34 yards on his only field-goal attempt, and Shanon Reid's seven tackles led the Tennessee defense.
UTC rushed for 151 yards, with graduate transfer Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks — an FCS All-American at Albany in 2016 — running for a game-high 85 and freshman Ailym Ford adding 41.
Mocs senior quarterback Nick Tiano struggled for the third consecutive game, finishing 4-of-16 for 40 yards. He and backup Drayton Arnold threw two interceptions apiece, with Arnold finishing 5-for-10 for 36 yards.
The Mocs' leading receiver was Chris James — a former quarterback who was converted to a tight end this past spring — with 18 yards on a pair of catches.
Bryce Nunnelly, a preseason FCS All-American, was limited to one catch for 7 yards.