A career performance from redshirt junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano and 100-yard receiving outputs from three different receivers pushed Tennessee past Missouri 24-20 for its fourth consecutive win and its fifth win in six games on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The Vols improved to 6-5 on the year and 4-3 in SEC play, becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2016, while Missouri fell to 5-6 and 2-5 in conference play.
Guarantano put together an impressive display through the air, completing 23-of-40 passes for a career-high 415 yards and two touchdowns. Guarantano’s performance moved him into eighth all-time in career passing yards, surpassing 1998 National Champion quarterback Tee Martin. Guarantano sits with 4,721 career passing yards.
This was Guarantano’s first career 400-plus yard performance and the first 400 yard passing output for any Vol since Tyler Bray threw for 404 yards in 2012, when current offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was in his first stint with the Vols.
Tennessee closed tonight’s contest with seniors Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway and junior Josh Palmer each surpassing 100 receiving yards. This is the first time UT has had three receivers surpass the century mark in a single game.
Palmer finished the night with a career and game-high 124 yards on six receptions.
Callaway and Jennings each finished with one touchdown and 110 and 115 yards, respectively. Both Callaway and Jennings moved into the top-10 in program history for career 100-yard performances. This was Jennings’ sixth career 100-yard output and the fifth for Callaway.
Jennings’ 115 yards moved him into sixth all-time in career receiving yards with 2,070 yards, passing Denarious Moore and Tim McGee.
On the defensive side of the ball, senior Daniel Bituli impressed with a game-high 12 total tackles and a crucial sack early in the fourth quarter to force a Missouri three-and-out.
The Tigers opened the scoring with a 30-yard field goal from Tucker McCann, following an 11 play, 57-yard drive that took 4:28 off the clock, giving them an early 3-0 advantage.
The Vols responded with a six play, 58-yard drive, yet Brent Cimaglia’s 34-yard field goal was blocked, holding the score at 3-0 in favor of the Tigers.
After holding the Missouri offense, UT drove 86 yards in nine plays, with freshman linebacker Quavaris Crouch punching it in on offense from a yard out for his first career touchdown in the second quarter. The drive was highlighted by a 51-yard pitch-and-catch from Guarantano to Jennings, tying Jennings’ season-long reception.
Crouch’s touchdown was the first by a UT defensive player, since AJ Johnson did so in 2012.
On Missouri’s ensuing drive, the Tigers strung together 75 yards in nine plays, with quarterback Kelly Bryant connecting with Tyler Badie from nine yards out, to give Missouri its second lead of the evening at 10-7.
After the teams traded three-and-outs, Tennessee regained the lead following a 16-yard touchdown connection from Guarantano to Jennings. Jennings corralled the ball at the 10-yard line, before breaking a series of tackles on his way to the end zone.
Earlier in the same drive, Guarantano found Jennings for 20 yards on a key conversion on third-and-18 to keep the drive alive.
After the UT defense forced a Missouri punt, Guarantano and the offense took advantage of the final 38 seconds of the half, driving 66 yards in five plays, before Cimaglia connected on a 27-yard field goal to extend the Tennessee lead to 17-10 heading into the halftime break.
Guarantano found Palmer twice on that drive for 44 yards to help put the Vols in position to score.
Out of the locker room, Missouri opened the second half scoring with an eight-play, 55-yard drive, capped off by a second touchdown grab by Badie, this time coming from receiver Micah Wilson who acted as the Tigers quarterback, tying the contest at 17 apiece.
After trading punts, the Tennessee offense went back to work as Guarantano found Callaway twice through the air for 48 yards. The first connection between the two, put the Vols just outside the red zone, while the second went for a 17-yard touchdown as Callaway pulled in an impressive grab with a Missouri defender draped over him, giving Tennessee a 24-17 lead late in the third quarter.
Following a Tennessee fumble in the early stages of the final quarter, Missouri cut into the UT lead after McCann converted his second field goal of the night, this time from 33 yards, making the score 24-20 still in favor of the Vols.
Holding a slim four-point advantage, the Tennessee defense forced a late three-and-out, while the offense moved the chains twice to run out the clock, cementing their sixth win of the season.