Guarantano leads Tennessee to upset of No. 21 Auburn, 30-24
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — In the sixth game of Jeremy Pruitt’s tenure as Tennessee coach, the Volunteers have a victory that shows a clear sign of progress.
Jarrett Guarantano passed for 328 yards and two touchdowns and Tennessee snapped an 11-game SEC losing streak with a 30-24 victory against No. 21 Auburn on Saturday.
The Volunteers (3-3, 1-2) forced three turnovers from Auburn’s lackluster offense, intercepting Jarrett Stidham twice and getting a strip sack that resulted in touchdown by Alontae Taylor.
Tennessee rallied in the second half to beat Auburn for the first time since 1999, breaking a six-game skid and defeated an Southeastern Conference West Division team for the first time since 2010 against Mississippi, a streak of 15 losses.
“We’re used to being down, as you guys know,” Guarantano said. “So we weren’t focused on the scoreboard at all. That’s one of the things that Coach was saying pregame, don’t worry about the scoreboard, let’s be the most physical team out there and let’s just go play ball.”
The Tigers (4-3, 1-3) are off to their worst SEC start since also going 1-3 in 2015.
Stidham’s first pick led to a 42-yard touchdown pass from Guarantano to Ty Chandler to tie the game at 10 in the second quarter.
Guarantano got rolling from there. The sophomore spread the ball around, completing passes to eight different Volunteers, six of which finished with a double-digit average.
“I think (Guarantano) did a really good job today of him having an effect on his teammates,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “We had some guys today that I think played their best football.”
Jauan Jennings capped a 12-play, 86-yard drive in the third quarter with a 25-yard touchdown catch to give Tennessee its first lead at 20-17 late in the third quarter.
Two plays later, Stidham was sacked and fumbled at his own 15. After several failed attempts to secure the loose ball Taylor recovered in the end zone.
Stidham, who finished 28 of 45 for 322 yards and two touchdowns to go with his three turnovers, returned on the next drive to echoing boos inside Jordan-Hare.
“I’m very disappointed in our performance,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “I’m disappointed for our players. I’m disappointed for our fans. I’m not happy.”
Auburn scored with under a minute remaining on a touchdown pass to Seth Williams, but was unable to recover the onside kick.
The Vols’ offense entered the game ranked No. 94 nationally in third-down conversions, but Guarantano dissected the Tigers’ secondary on those downs with 11-of-14 passing for 188 yards and a score. The Vols converted 10 of 19 tries on third down.
Guarantano’s 328 yards are the most for Tennessee since the last time they won a conference game in 2016 against Missouri.
Stidham was 28 of 45 for 322 yards, but his three turnovers proved costly as he continued his recent struggles.
“Every day, I’m going to work and get better, and I’m going to keep fighting for those guys in that locker room,” Stidham said. “That’s what it’s completely about for me. I don’t care about the future, I don’t care about the past, I don’t care how great or bad I did last year or how I’ve done up to this point. I’m going to continue to fight for my teammates.”
Tennessee: Suddenly, the Vols can at least hope for a bowl bid in its first season under Pruitt, the former Alabama defensive coordinator.
Auburn: The Tigers started the season with playoff hopes, but they have regressed since and can expect to be unranked on Sunday.
AUBURN STARTERS OUT
Tigers running back JaTarvious Whitlow (12 carries, 42 yards) was injured while trying to recover Stidham’s fumble and did not re-enter the game. Safety Jeremiah Dinson was ejected for targeting on Jennings’ touchdown and will miss the first half of next week’s game at Ole Miss.
Vols LB Daniel Bituli, the team’s leading tackler, got a targeting penalty in second half and won’t be able to play the first half against Alabama next week.
Tennessee: Pruitt’s team hosts No. 1 Alabama next Saturday inside Neyland Stadium.
Auburn: The Tigers travel to Oxford, Mississippi, to face Ole Miss before their open week.
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