By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
That sure looked easy on Saturday.
Tennessee (2-0) appeared fairly routine in its 35-12 home-opening win over Missouri (0-2) at Neyland Stadium. The Vols scored on their opening possession, struck again early in the second quarter and never appeared to be in any real threat pf losing after building a 15-point halftime lead. It was all academic from that point on.
Jarrett Guarantano was all business, going 14-23 for 190 yards and a 13-yard touchdown pass to Eric Gray in the final minute of the first half. Not the most spectacular numbers, but Guarantano didn’t need them to be with the way Tennessee was running the ball. Plus, he still doesn’t have a turnover and there weren’t those bad misses he had in the opener against South Carolina. Two games completing more than 60 percent of his passes with no giveaways? Tennessee will take it in a heartbeat.
Guarantano’s also doing a better job at deciphering when he should tuck the ball and scramble with it. Keep in mind he was originally recruited as a dual threat quarterback. He also seems much more comfortable running the QB sneak (talk about irony) as the Vols went a perfect 4-4 on fourth down conversions.
As for the rest of the running game, Gray and Ty Chandler combined for 35 carries while Jabari Small had four touches himself. Tennessee ended up with 232 yards rushing (that includes two sacks) with Gray and Chandler each finding the end zone on the ground once. Having Cade Mays make his Tennessee debut added to the success (and the fun) of the Vols’ ground attack. Getting Mays some game reps just in time for the Vols to face his former team doesn’t hurt either.
The Vols opened as a two-touchdown underdog to No. 3 Georgia (2-0) as Tennessee heads to Athens this Saturday afternoon. Before that, we unveil week 2’s good, bad and ugly.
The Good: Georgia. Shoutout to my Sports Animal colleague Will West for being the only member of our picks panel to correctly take Georgia to cover the 6.5-point spread against Auburn Saturday night. And the way Georgia annihilated the Tigers made the rest of us look foolish. Stetson Bennett didn’t have to do much, but he made some plays when he needed to, including a nice scramble and pass to convert a third down and ten situation to setup a Georgia score. Zamir White and Georgia’s rushing attack did the rest for the offense while Georgia’s defense contained Auburn’s run game and frustrated Bo Nix all night.
Honorable Mention: TCU. After losing to Iowa State in its opener, this is a really nice win for Gary Patterson’s program. Max Duggan accounted for more than 300 yards of total offense and two scores to help the Horned Frogs upset No. 9 Texas 33-31. I knew TCU has had success against Texas in recent years, but I didn’t know Patterson was 7-2 against the Longhorns since TCU joined the Big 12. That’s outrageous.
The Bad: Kentucky. The SEC is tough, but the Wildcats shouldn’t be 0-2. Not when this program has had back-to-back solid years where Mark Stoops has shown just how good of a coach he can be. Kentucky fought off Ole Miss and managed to force overtime, but a missed PAT in the extra period gave the Rebels a 42-41 win for Lane Kiffin’s first in Oxford. The Wildcats rushed for more than 400 yards, had the football for 13 more minutes and still lost.
Honorable Mention: Oklahoma. What’s that? The Sooners are having issues on defense? You don’t say! Oklahoma blew its second double-digit lead in as many weeks as Lincoln Riley’s team fell to Iowa State (yes, that same Cyclones team that was destroyed by Louisiana last month) 37-30. Oklahoma overcame a loss to Kansas State by winning the Big 12 last year and making the College Football Playoff. That looks more bleak with two losses in its first three games and Oklahoma State off to a 3-0 start.
The Ugly: Mississippi State. It’s not often a team goes from the good category to the ugly on this blog, but when you’re ranked No. 16 in the country, coming off a win over the defending national champions, and follow it all up with a loss to an Arkansas team that had lost 20 straight in SEC play, that’s where you’ll end up. To top it off, the Bulldogs lost at home. The only thing that looks consistent with this Mississippi State team through two games is the turnovers. K.J. Costello was picked off three times in the Bulldogs’ 21-14 loss to the Razorbacks to give Arkansas its first conference win since 2017.
Honorable Mention: Duke. I hate putting David Cutcliffe here, but last year was supposed to be Duke’s fallback season before rebounding this year. It hasn’t happened for the Blue Devils, who are off to an 0-4 start after Saturday’s 38-31 loss to Virginia Tech. Duke failed to take advantage of winning the turnover battle and gave up nearly 500 yards of total offense. This Saturday’s road trip to Syracuse feels like a must-win.