Tennessee football: Turning points in Vols’ 30-17 loss at Auburn

Auburn defensive back Smoke Monday (21) returns an interception for a touchdown at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. Auburn defeated Tennessee 30-17.
Auburn defensive back Smoke Monday (21) returns an interception for a touchdown at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. Auburn defeated Tennessee 30-17. /

Here are the key moments from AU’s win over the Tennessee football Volunteers.

For the second straight game, Tennessee football blew a two-score first-half lead. This time, it was even crazier, as the Vols had more total yards, won the time of possession battle and didn’t lose the turnover battle but somehow lost 30-17.

How does that happen? Well, a few key moments here and there will do that, something that has been the story for Rocky Top all year. You get a busted coverage, a special teams miscue and a turnover that turns disastrous, this game can change in a heartbeat.

Let’s go ahead and dive in to see how it happened on Saturday. You’ll notice that the game was maybe three plays away from being a UT win. These were the turning points in Tennessee football’s loss at the Auburn Tigers despite having a 10-0 lead.

Jarrett Guarantano sacked on third down on opening drive

This one was somewhat forgotten, but it turned out to be crucial, and we’ll explain why. Tennessee football had the ball 3rd and 9 on the Auburn 27-yard line on their opening drive. However, Guarantano was sacked on that play for a five-yard loss.

That set up a 50-yard field goal attempt by Brent Cimaglia, which he missed. Now, if not for the sack, Cimaglia only has a 44-yard field goal and likely makes it. At that point, late in the fourth quarter, UT’s final touchdown would make it a one-score game, not a two-score game. As a result, this was a crucial play.

Anthony Schwartz 54 yard TD catch

Rocky Top is good for one of these a game this year. The Vols had built a 10-0 lead on the road over the Auburn Tigers and were trying to avoid what happened two weeks earlier, when they had blown a 13-0 halftime lead at the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Well, the Auburn Tigers got going on the next drive, as Bo Nix found Anthony Schwartz on a busted coverage for an easy 54-yard touchdown. That was the start of Auburn scoring 27 unanswered points after the Hogs scored 24 unanswered in UT’s previous outing.

Smoke Monday 100-yard pick-six

The most obvious play of the game comes here. It made all the difference. Trailing 13-10, the Vols drove deep into Auburn territory on their opening drive of the second half. They had gained 63 yards, all on running plays, to get to the Auburn 12 with two minutes left in the third quarter.

On 2nd and 7, though, Jim Chaney inexplicably tried a slow developing pass into the end zone. Kevin Steele’s defense was ready for it, and Guarantano tried to force it into double-coverage. Smoke Monday intercepted it and ran it back for a touchdown. What at least could have been a game-tying drive turned into a two-score lead for Auburn.

Brent Cimaglia 37-yard missed field goal

Despite that two-score deficit, the Vols got the ball back and drove deep into Auburn territory again, once again running it the whole time. If they could score here, they would cut it to a one-score game in the fourth quarter.

After Jarrett Guarantano was stopped on a third down misdirection play, Jeremy Pruitt brought out Brent Cimaglia for a 37-yard field goal. He was Mr. Automatic, and the occasional missed 50-yarder was forgivable. However, he missed his second field goal of the night, only from 37 yards out, giving Auburn the ball and a two-score lead in the fourth quarter.

Three Bo Nix third down conversions on Auburn’s final TD drive

When Tennessee football’s defense is not having a busted coverage in the secondary, it’s getting torched on third down passes. Down 20-10, the Vols were desperately looking for a stop on the next drive. They brought up a 3rd and 3, a 3rd and 6 and a 3rd and 5.

Next. Five takeaways from Vols' 30-17 loss at Auburn. dark

Bo Nix completed two of those passes for first downs, and another was a pass interference on Alontae Taylor. That kept the drive alive, and the Tigers turned it into a 12-play 80-yard touchdown drive to take a 27-10 lead. It was the knockout blow.