KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – No. 21/20 Tennessee (2-0) rushed for four touchdowns and used a punishing defensive performance to extend its win streak to eight consecutive games following a 35-12 triumph over Missouri (0-2) on Saturday in Neyland Stadium.
The victory improved the Vols’ record in home openers to 98-20-5. UT’s eight-game win streak is the second-longest for the program since 1998, and the 23-point win is Tennessee’s largest margin of victory over an SEC opponent since a 63-37 victory against Missouri on Nov. 9, 2016.
Jarrett Guarantano made an impact for UT in both the passing and rushing game. The redshirt senior signal caller was an efficient 14-of-23 through the air for 190 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. On the ground, he recorded his first-career game with multiple rushing touchdowns, finishing with two for the day. Guarantano also converted all four of the Orange & White’s fourth down conversions in the game on quarterback sneaks.
Sophomore running back Eric Gray was patient and explosive in the run game, rushing for 105 yards and a touchdown on 16 attempts—marking the second time the sophomore has eclipsed 100 yards in his career.
Gray has now recorded a rushing touchdown in four straight games dating back to last season, which is the longest such streak since VFL Joshua Dobbs accomplished the same feat in 2016. Gray also added a receiving touchdown to become the first Vols’ player with a rushing and receiving touchdown in a game since Alvin Kamara did so against Vanderbilt on Nov. 26, 2016.
Tennessee jumped onto the scoreboard first with a well-orchestrated 14-play, 75-yard drive on its opening possession. The Vols converted on two fourth-down attempts with 1-yard sneaks up the middle from Guarantano, before Chandler punched it into the end zone from three yards out.
With UT leading 7-0, the squads traded punts before the Big Orange doubled their lead with a nine-play, 65-yard drive that bridged the quarters—capped by a 20-yard touchdown scamper from Gray.
Missouri got on the scoreboard with a 27-yard field goal from Harrison Mevis following a nine-play, 65-yard drive that ate up over four minutes of game action to cut the UT lead to 14-3.
After forcing a Tennessee three-and-out, Mevis connected again for the Tigers on the ensuing drive, this time from 50 yards, cutting the Vols’ lead to 14-6 with 4:17 remaining in the opening half.
With time winding down in the second quarter, the Vols steamrolled down the field in eight plays, highlighted by 44 yards on six rushes from Chandler. To close the drive, Gray caught a bubble screen from Guarantano and weaved his way into the checkerboards for his second score of the afternoon, increasing the Tennessee advantage to 21-6 as the two sides entered the locker rooms.
Out of the break, the Vols forced a Missouri punt and marched 92 yards in 16 plays, with Guarantano calling his own number from the two-yard line to further extend the Tennessee advantage to 28-6 with 6:27 left in the third quarter.
The Tigers immediately responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive to make it a two-possession game. A failed two-point conversion attempt held the UT lead at 28-12 heading into the contest’s final frame.
Two drives later, following a Tennessee punt, Missouri had advanced the ball into Tennessee territory. On first-and-10 from the 27, senior Theo Jackson nabbed his second-career interception and returned it 36 yards back into Missouri territory, all-but-ending any Tiger comeback bid.
On the ensuing drive, the offense put the nail in the coffin, when Guarantano plowed his way into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line for his second rushing touchdown of the afternoon, increasing the UT advantage to the eventual final score line of 35-12.
Up Next: The Vols will hit the road next weekend for a matchup in Athens against No. 4/4 Georgia. Kickoff for that contest will be announced on Sunday.