UTEP (0-3) hasn’t led all season and has lost 15 consecutive games, the longest active skid of any Football Bowl Subdivision team. The Miners haven’t won a game since beating North Texas in their 2016 season finale.
Chandler had carried the ball just once this season before Saturday. He didn’t play in a 59-3 blowout of East Tennessee State last week after Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said he got his “bell rung” early in a season-opening loss to No. 14 West Virginia.
Chandler’s return to action sparked a Tennessee offense that had struggled for much of the day. He needed just 12 carries to gain his 158 yards.
On Tennessee’s first play from scrimmage in the second half, Chandler ran through a giant hole on the left side of the line and raced down the sideline untouched for the Vols’ longest run from scrimmage since LaMarcus Coker’s 87-yarder in a 39-10 victory over Vanderbilt in 2006. The breakaway extended Tennessee’s lead to 17-0.
“He’s a pretty instinctive runner,” Pruitt said. “He’s got good vision and he’s got good speed. He got out there and did a good job finishing that run.”
Tennessee’s Jarrett Guarantano was 12-of-16 passing for 168 yards and a 4-yard touchdown to Jauan Jennings. The Vols’ defense never allowed UTEP’s offense to get beyond UT’s 33-yard line.
Missed opportunities by Tennessee (2-1) enabled UTEP to stay relatively competitive without any semblance of a passing game. The Vols outgained the Miners 259-85 in the first two quarters but led only 10-0 at halftime.
“We were down by 10 at the half and had the football to start the second half,” UTEP coach Dana Dimel said. “You feel like a drive there can get you back into the spot you need to be. But we go three-and-out and give up the big play on defense. That was a big two series in the ballgame, a big swing of momentum.”
UTEP stayed close until halftime because Tennessee scored a total of three points on its first two trips to the red zone.
The Vols settled for Brent Cimaglia’s 38-yard field goal with 2:39 left in the first quarter after a chop-block penalty nullified Chandler’s 7-yard touchdown run.
Jarrett Guarantano’s 53-yard completion to Josh Palmer on Tennessee’s next drive put the Vols in scoring position again, but Jeremy Banks fumbled on second-and-1 from the 3. Banks stretched his arm in an attempt to get the ball across the goal line when Jamar Smith forced the fumble that produced Tennessee’s first turnover of the season.
Tennessee entered the day as one of just five FBS teams that hadn’t lost a turnover this season. The Vols committed their second turnover later in the first half when Marquez Callaway fumbled on a punt return.
The Vols didn’t get their first touchdown until Tim Jordan’s 3-yard run made it 10-0 with 10:49 left in the second quarter.
“Twenty-four points, that’s not where we want to be — absolutely not,” Pruitt said.
The announced attendance of 87,074 included 1,067 Hurricane Florence evacuees who were given free tickets before the game.
UTEP: Miners quarterback Kai Locksley can make things happen with his mobility, but his lack of passing accuracy remains a major concern. Locksley went 9-for-22 for 39 yards Saturday and has completed just 41.8 percent of his passes this season. UTEP entered Saturday with the lowest passing efficiency rating of any FBS team.
Tennessee: The Vols had done a nice job of avoiding mistakes the first two weeks of the season, but they committed two turnovers in the first half Saturday and had a penalty that nullified a touchdown They can’t afford to repeat these types of errors as they enter Southeastern Conference competition.
UTEP hosts New Mexico State on Saturday.
Tennessee hosts Florida on Saturday.