This story was updated at 7:36 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, with more information.
KNOXVILLE — For only the third time in 11 seasons, Tennessee won at least half of its football games in the month of October.
The 2-2 record came as a surprise to some, considering it came on the heels of a 1-3 mark in September with losses to the Sun Belt's Georgia State and Football Bowl Subdivision independent Brigham Young. October historically has been a tough month for the Volunteers, with the third Saturday battle against Alabama highlighting a rough stretch of games.
In the last three seasons, Tennessee had won a total of two October games, 34-31 over Georgia on Oct. 1, 2016, and 30-24 at Auburn last season.
But after 2019 wins over Southeastern Conference opponents Mississippi State and South Carolina and losses to top-10 teams Georgia and Alabama, coach Jeremy Pruitt wants the team to continue an upward trend.
The Vols (3-5, 2-3) had a season-high 485 yards of total offense in the 41-21 win over the Gamecocks as well as 351 yards passing, also a new season standard. They did so despite playing three different players — senior receiver Jauan Jennings, junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano and redshirt freshman J.T. Shrout — behind center. Defensively the Vols pitched a second-half shutout, allowing 168 yards in the final 30 minutes.
"There was a lot of good in (Saturday's) game, but there's a lot we need to improve on," Pruitt said during his Monday news conference. "When you look at the game, there are a lot of positives — probably moreso than any game we've had — but we still have a long ways to go to play our best. That's our goal and we're a long ways from it."
Tennessee hosts Conference USA member Alabama-Birmingham (6-1) this Saturday for homecoming at 7 on ESPNU. The Blazers have yet to allow an opponent to score more than 20 points this season and ranks seventh in the country in sacks with 3.7 per game and fifth in tackles for loss at 8.6.
"Just really sound and really hard-nose football," Pruitt said. "We have a tremendous challenge this week. Our guys have to get in here and get focused. We have to find a way to play our best football on Saturday night, and that is what we are going to focus on this week."
QB full house
Pruitt said Monday that he expects all three quarterbacks to be ready to go this week against UAB. Freshman Brian Maurer missed last week's game after suffering concussions in consecutive games but is expected to be practicing this week. Guarantano, who suffered a broken bone in his left (non-throwing) hand last Saturday, was expected to miss Monday's practice but was at the football facility watching video and "will be ready to go unless something happens that I don't know about," according to Pruitt.
Guarantano threw for 229 yards and two scores prior to his injury Saturday, prompting Pruitt to call it "Jarrett's best game of the season." Shrout threw for 122 yards and a touchdown.
Vols trio honored
Tennessee's Jauan Jennings, Brandon Kennedy and Daniel Bituli were among those listed as SEC players of the week Monday by the league office.
Jennings was co-offensive player of the week along with Kentucky's Lynn Bowden. Jennings had a career-high 174 yards receiving on seven catches, including scoring grabs of 48 and 19 yards. He also took multiple snaps at quarterback, rushing for 18 yards. For good measure, he had a 33-yard completion to Marquez Callaway that was waved off due to a penalty.
Bituli shared co-defensive honors with LSU's Jacoby Stevens. The Vols' senior linebacker had 15 tackles, including one for loss, and blocked a punt that he recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. He also had a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry.
Kennedy was the offensive lineman of the week after scoring the highest grade (80) on a Tennessee offensive line that didn't allow a sack and had season highs in passing yards (351) and total offense (485). Saturday was the first time all season South Carolina didn't register a sack.
UK kickoff time
The SEC announced Monday that the Vols' Nov. 9 game at Kentucky will kick off at 7:30 and will be televised on the SEC Network.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.