5. 2019: Georgia State beats Tennessee 38-30
It was the letdown of all letdowns in openers. Tennessee football was set to kick off its second season under Jeremy Pruitt. Despite going 5-7 in 2018 with six losses by 25 or more points, optimism was high. The opener was just a warm-up. After all, the Georgia State Panthers are a Sun Belt team and went 2-10 the year before.
Why wouldn’t it be? The Vols returned a ton of starters, secured a top 12 recruiting class, had an easy schedule in 2019 and brought back Jim Chaney. They had upset two top 25 teams in 2018, and the struggles were due to the transitions from a spread to a pro-style and a 4-3 to a 3-4 with tons of players out in the offseason and learning on the fly.
But what UT fans didn’t take into account was GSU was in its third year under Shawn Elliott, who had his players and experience for the first time. He was a Steve Spurrier protege and in seven years with the South Carolina Gamecocks, half a year as an interim head coach, he went 4-3 against UT and 2-1 against Pruitt.
Oh, and Elliott was on the Appalachian State Mountaineers staff that upset the Michigan Wolverines in 2007. Anyway, GSU set the tone early by recovering a UT fumble on the second play of the game and scoring a touchdown. The Vols seemingly got back in control, scoring back to back touchdowns and getting the ball back up 14-7.
But then they were stopped on a 3rd and 1 in the second and punted. From there, GSU was unstoppable with Dan Ellington at quarterback. They tied it up and then took a 21-17 lead in the third. UT would match their touchdowns with field goals. Late, down 28-23, Jarrett Guarantano was sacked and fumbled the ball.
On the next drive, the Panthers scored to take a 35-23 fourth quarter lead. They then got an interception to go up 38-23. It was total domination, only seemingly offset by a late UT touchdown. But the Vols were embarrassed despite being a 27-point favorite to open the season. And panic immediately set in on Rocky Top.