2. Football beats Auburn
The Tennessee Vols football program did have a thrilling win over the Kentucky Wildcats later in the year. And the Tennessee men’s basketball program scored some huge wins, as we’ve noted in this post.
But football takes precedent on big wins, and this one was huge. UT scored its most signature upset win in years by beating the Auburn Tigers on the road, and it came at a perfect time. We already mentioned how much the program was struggling with all the transitions under first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt.
What made it worse was the fact that they got off to a 2-3 start and lost all three games by 26 points. Still, after losing to the Georgia Bulldogs, Pruitt said he saw some improvement in his tea m entering the bye.
This was the first game out of the bye. Auburn was ranked No. 21 and, despite struggling, should have dominated this game. But after a 7-0 start, the Tennessee Vols showed they were here to play with an interception and touchdown pass to Ty Chandler that tied it up in the second quarter.
In the second half, the defense stepped things up. Then, Jarrett Guarantano led an epic drive with third down completions to Josh Palmer and Jauan Jennings and a touchdown pass to Jennings. The play of the year followed, as pressure from Kyle Phillips and Alexis Johnson resulted in a strip-sack that Alontae Taylor recovered in the end zone.
All of a sudden, UT led 27-17. They got another field goal and recovered an onside kick after a late Auburn touchdown to win 30-24. The victory ended an SEC West losing streak for UT dating back to 2010, a six-game losing streak to the Auburn Tigers specifically, and an 11-game losing streak against SEC schools and Power Five schools.
So this win was significant and proved Pruitt was building something. The Kentucky win was an encore, but this was the win that really set the stage for what the Vols were building, and that’s why it’s so high on our list.