In one fell swoop, Tennessee avoided some historical ignominy while simultaneously getting off the FBS schneid.
With Brian Maurer making his second career start under center –and the man he replaced, Jarrett Guarantano, finishing it — Tennessee, clad in their creamsicle uniforms, jumped out to a 10-3 halftime lead before hanging on in the second half to claim a 20-10 win over Mississippi State in Neyland Stadium. A field goal midway through the third quarter stretched that halftime lead to 10, although a Garrett Shrader 17-yard touchdown pass to Deddrick Thomas midway through the fourth sliced the deficit to three at 13-10, the closest the Bulldogs had been since early in the second.
With 2:35 remaining in the game, however, Guarantano tossed a 39-yard touchdown pass that essentially sealed the win for the Vols.
While Maurer started the game, he went down in the first half with an undisclosed injury and was replaced by Guarantano, who had started the previous 18 games in a row before he was benched prior to UT’s last game. In relief, the junior completed six of his seven attempts for 106 yards and the touchdown. Maurer also completed six-of-seven pass attempts, although two of those were caught by Bulldog defenders.
MSU wasn’t immune to the pick either as two of their quarterbacks — Tommy Stevens (two) and Shrader (one) — combined to throw three.
With the win, the Volunteers improved to 2-4 in their second season under Jeremy Pruitt; the win helped UT avoid going 1-5 to start a campaign for the first time in the football program’s history. As had been the case since Week 3, the worst-ever start for the Vols remains safe for another season as the 1988 squad under Johnny Majors lost their first six games that year (before winning their last five). The 1909 Vols also went 0-5-1 the first six games, but I’m certain you already knew that.
Speaking of Week 3, UT beat FCS Chattanooga that Saturday for what was, up until today, its lone win on the season. Up until Week 7, the Vols had been the only Power Five team that hadn’t scored a win over another FBS school — and, yes, that includes the likes of Rutgers and UConn and UCLA and Vanderbilt.