AUBURN — 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 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 2007 against Arkansas.
The Tigers (4-3, 1-3) are off to their worst SEC start since 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.
“I think (Guarantano) did a really good job today of him having an effect on his teammates,” 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 covered 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 cover 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.
Tennessee: Suddenly, the Vols at least can 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 Sunday.
AUBURN STARTERS OUT
Running back JaTarvious Whitlow (12 carries, 42 yards) was injured while trying to cover Stidham’s fumble and did not return. Safety Jeremiah Dinson was ejected for targeting on Jennings’ touchdown and will miss the first half of next week’s game at Ole Miss.
Tennessee: Pruitt’s team hosts No. 1 Alabama next week.
Auburn: The Tigers travel to face Ole Miss before their open week.