Tennessee’s 11-game SEC losing streak has finally come to an end.
The Vols went on the road and knocked off a reeling Auburn team, 30-24. For Tennessee, it marked the first conference victory since Nov. 19, 2016 and its first win over Auburn since Oct. 2, 1999.
And it was the best performance in the young career of Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. Guarantano, a sophomore, threw for 328 yards and two touchdowns. He was especially good on third down.
— Tennessee Stats & Info (@Vol_Stats) October 13, 2018
Guarantano’s second touchdown pass, a 25-yard connection with Jauan Jennings at the 3:25 mark of the third quarter, gave the Vols a lead they would maintain the rest of the game.
That score put Tennessee ahead 20-17. On the ensuing possession, the Vols defense forced its third turnover of the afternoon. Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham tossed two first-half interceptions. This time, he was sacked and fumbled. The ball bounced every which way and eventually ended up in the hands of Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor, who walked it in for a touchdown.
That wacky play extended the Vols’ lead to 27-17. It ended up being too much for the scuffling Auburn offense to overcome.
Auburn is in free fall
Even when Auburn was 4-1, it showed plenty of reasons for concern. Offensive issues have been evident all year. They were present in the loss to LSU and in the wins over Arkansas and Southern Miss. The Arkansas win, which had a misleading 34-3 final score, was especially of concern. The Tigers mustered only 225 yards of offense against a team that had allowed more than 800 yards combined in losses to Colorado State and North Texas.
From there, when the competition got better, the wheels completely fell off. In the loss to Mississippi State, the Tigers rushed for only 90 yards, turned it over twice and didn’t score a single touchdown. Auburn was able to move the ball early against the Vols on Saturday, but turnovers doomed the Tigers in the first half and inefficiency sealed their fate in the second half.
The running game has been completely underwhelming behind a lackluster offensive line. That means Stidham has to carry a bigger load, but his inability to make plays with pressure in his face has been his biggest downfall during his time on The Plains.
Expectations were high entering the season, but at 4-3, Gus Malzahn needs to get things turned around quickly. Last season’s SEC West title (and a hot pursuit from Arkansas) prompted Auburn to give Malzahn a monstrous seven-year, $49 million contract extension. With that extension brought a whopping $32 million buyout.
It looks like Malzahn is going to get time to dig his program out of this hole.
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