KNOXVILLE, TN- With the defense forcing two third-quarter turnovers and the offense converting those opportunities into 14 points, Tennessee broke open a tight game and surged past Southern Miss, 24-10, Saturday night in the Homecoming game at Neyland Stadium.
With an announced crowd of 95,551 on hand, UT improved to 4-5 on the season, thanks to a pair of rushing touchdowns from junior tailback John Kelly and another from redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. With their second-straight loss, the Golden Eagles fell to 5-4.
Tennessee got off to a fast start, as senior Evan Berry‘s 46-yard return of the opening kickoff set the Vols’ offense up at the Southern Miss 49. Nine plays later, Guarantano capped the drive with a three-yard burst into the end zone. Senior placekicker Aaron Medley added the PAT to provide the Big Orange with a 7-0 advantage with 4:01 gone in the first quarter.
The Golden Eagles got on the scoreboard with 8:16 remaining in the second period. Kicker Parker Shaunfield cut UT’s lead to 7-3, drilling a 27-yard field goal to put the finishing touches on a 10-play, 77-yard drive.
The Vols pushed the advantage back to seven points, 10-3, with 2:42 left before the half with two quarterbacks engineering the scoring march. With true freshman Will McBride filling in for the injured Guarantano for three plays in the middle of the 12-play 68-yard drive, Medley came on to close it out with a 38-yard field goal.
Tennessee’s defense, which had been holding Southern Miss at bay all night, came up with two huge plays in the third frame to provide the offense outstanding field position. With McBride on at quarterback in place of the injured Guarantano, the UT offense cashed in both times.
First, senior cornerback Emmanuel Moseley stepped in front of an errant Keon Howard pass, returning it 19 yards to the USM 20. Kelly, who finished the night with 79 yards on 20 carries, wasted no time making the Golden Eagles pay, rumbling 20 yards for a touchdown. Medley added the extra point for the Big Orange to make it 17-3 with 5:15 to go in the third.
On Southern Miss’ next series, UT’s Darrell Taylor came calling with one of his two, and the Vols’ four, sacks (Kyle Phillipsalso had two) on the evening. The junior defensive end sacked Howard and forced a fumble that redshirt junior nickel Rashaan Gaulden (team-leading nine tackles) recovered.
Tennessee initially turned that takeaway into a 30-yard Medley field goal, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by USM presented UT a first down and an opportunity for six points rather than three. The Vols took full advantage, with Kelly punching the ball in from three yards out and Medley adding the PAT to extend the lead to 24-3 with 3:17 left in the third stanza.
The Golden Eagles had one last counter in them, however, going 90 yards in 10 plays midway through the fourth period. Redshirt junior quarterback Kwadra Griggs, on in reserve, hit pay dirt from a yard out, and Shaunfield added the extra point to draw USM within 14, 24-10, with 6:45 left in the contest. The Vol defense stiffened from that point on, however, to close out the win.
The Vols return to action next Saturday night in Columbia, Mo., as they face the Missouri Tigers at Faurot Field in Memorial Stadium. The game is slated for a 6:30 p.m. CT (7:30 ET) kickoff on the SEC Network.
Courtesy: University of Tennessee Athletics