KNOXVILLE, Tenn — Tennessee prepped hard all week and was focused for Saturday night’s game against LSU, but the Vols still failed to score high enough marks to beat an SEC team this season.
Tennessee fell to 0-7 in SEC and 4-7 overall with the 30-10 home loss to Neyland Stadium despite out-gaining the Tigers 287 yards to 281.
The Vols had two costly muffed punts in the first half, both by sophomore Marquez Callaway, that gave LSU the football at Tennessee’s 19-yard line and 15-yard line that led directly to 10 points.
That was enough for the Tigers to take a 17-10 lead into halftime.
Things got worse for the Vols in the second half, with Callaway struggling to handle the kickoff, falling on it at the Tennessee 3. A punt ensued, giving LSU golden field position at the 50, which the Tigers turned into another TD drive and a 23-10 lead.
The Vols gambled three times on fourth downs in the second half and failed to convert on any of them, most notably a fourth-and-1 from their own 21.
Redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano threw his first TD pass as a starter and against an FBS team en route to a 13-of-23 passing night that netted 239 yards. Guarantano’s sprained ankle injury form two weeks ago appeared to continue to slow him, as he was unable to scramble effectively or run the ball, getting stopped on a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak.
Running backs (C)
John Kelly was bottled up on the ground again, rushing for only 47 yards on 25 carries. Kelly did have a team-high three receptions — on screen passes — that netted 31 yards. But Kelly also dropped a pass, as did freshman Tim Jordan. Jordan had two catches for 44 yards. Carlin Fils-Aime had two carries for 6 yards.
Marquez Callaway made a great catch and run on his 46-yard touchdown. Brandon Johnson had three catches for 25 yards including a 15-yard gain. Jeff George had a 60-yard catch and run. Tight end Ethan Wolf blocked well and had two catches for 7 yards. Walk-on track athlete Malik Elon broke a tackle for a 10-yard run on an end around. Tight end Jakob Johnson had a fall start.
Offensive Line (C-)
A makeshift group for sure, as three of the five linemen who finished the game didn’t play in the first eight games this season. Tennessee started the season with 14 scholarship offensive linemen, but by the end of Saturday’s game they were down to four. Redshirt freshman Ryan Johnson played center in a game for the first time this season. Devante Brooks had a motion penalty.
Defensive Line (B)
A strong effort, particularly in the first quarter when the line gummed up the LSU run game and held the Tigers without a first down. Senior Kendal Vickers led the way with 8 tackles, and Jonathan Kongbo had a sack. Shy Tuttle had five stops in his best effort of the season.
Linebackers ( B-)
Quart’e Sapp led the team with 11 tackles and had a tackle-for-loss, and Daniel Bituli had 8 tackles before leaving the game with an injury. Colton Jumper also had 5 tackles. Elliott Berry had a sack.
LSU struggled to throw the football, passing for only 81 yards against Tennessee. Nigel Warrior was aggressive against the run and made 8 tackles. Emmanuel Moseley and Micah Abernathy had four tackles apiece. Shaq Wiggins was called for pass interference.
Special Teams (F)
Marquez Callaway’s fumbled punts at the 19 an 15 undercut Tennessee’s attempt to get off to a fast start, as they led directly to 10 points for LSU. Aaron Medley made a 45-yard field goal, but he missed a 46-yard attempt. Trevor Daniel averaged 51 yards on his four punts.
Tennessee had a very good game plan, but the Vols simply didn’t have the necessary personnel on the offensive line, and quarterback Jarrett Guarantano’s lack of mobility takes away the effectiveness of the read option. The defensive plan was impressive, but LSU got outside a couple of times in the second half for big gains.
The Vols out-gained LSU and lost, and that says a lot about Tennessee’s inability to make plays when it matters. The team had a strong start to the game, but once again, the Vols faded in the second half.