It’s Football Time in Tennessee! Welcome to Tennessee Game Week where every week this fall I’ll be previewing the Vols’ upcoming match-up as well as whatever other random college football takes I may have. Check back every Wednesday or Thursday for predictions, key match-ups, players to watch, and more so you can go into Saturday pretending to know what the hell you’re talking about.
Since Vol. 1 went down, we’ve endured two weeks of ups and downs from the Vols. After showing flashes of competitiveness in the second quarter against West Virginia, the Vols played one of the worst third quarters I’ve seen in some time leading to a 40-14 loss that still probably wasn’t as bad as the score reflected. The following week against ETSU, shockingly poor offensive line play led to an ugly first quarter until the weather delay allowed Pruitt to fire up the troops. The Vols then got their shit together and proceeded to put up 28 more before halftime en route to a 59-3 win.
What Have We Learned?
There isn’t a whole lot to preview for this week’s UTEP game as UTEP looks to be one of the worst teams in FBS this season after their 30-10 embarrassment to FCS Northern Arizona. Instead, let’s take a look at what the Vols’ first two games reflect about this team heading into SEC play:
- The offensive line is nowhere near where they need to be, at least from a consistency standpoint. Tennessee’s offensive line has either been burning hot or ice cold through the first two games. After making West Virginia’s sub-par D-line look like the 1985 Chicago Bears for the first quarter, our line seemed to settle in, allowing Tim Jordan to finish the day with 118 yards on 6 yards per carry. They also gave Guarantano plenty of time to work down the stretch giving up only 2 sacks and 2 QB hurries. ETSU was a similar story. After turning away the Vols on a first-and-goal from the four yard-line, ETSU’s defense looked much more porous the rest of the game as Tennessee’s three tailbacks combined for 174 yards rushing averaging around 5 yards per carry. When the O-line plays well, they should be strong enough to at least not lose us our must-win SEC games. If we continue to see these early game struggles, though, the line will be the biggest factor to blame for a disappointing season.
- Guarantano has matured and looks infinitely more comfortable and poised in the pocket. Jarrett Guarantano impressed in the off-season and won the starting job over Keller Chryst. The question was whether he would convert that off-season improvement into on-field success headed into his second season or whether we would continue to see the “obviously talented but oftentimes lost or overwhelmed” Guarantano of the past. So far, it is somewhere in the middle. Guarantano has yet to put up an impressive game from a yards and TD standpoint, but he has made good decisions, thrown the ball accurately, and shown poise in the pocket that he certainly lacked last year. He has also shown strong chemistry with Marquez Callaway finding the receiver 11 times already this season.
- Our passing defense, notably the pass rush, is going to be our biggest weakness headed into SEC play. Through the first two games of the season, the Vols have totaled just three sacks, which puts them very near the bottom of the SEC, and only two interceptions, both against an FCS opponent. They also made Heisman candidate Will Grier look like undisputed Heisman front-runner Will Grier, giving up over 400 yards and 5 TDs while rarely getting any pressure. With upcoming matchups with studs like Drew Lock, Tua Tagovailoa, and Jarrett Stidham, the Vols absolutely have to find a way to increase pressure in the pass rush or the secondary will be burdened with a Herculean task. And as average as they have been, they won’t be up for the challenge, either.
Will Guarantano Break Out Against UTEP?
The Vol’s Week 3 opponent UTEP lost their opener to FCS Northern Arizona by 20 points, so the Vols likely won’t be tested for the second week in a row. Match-ups like this can make it difficult to judge players and position groups since the Vols will overmatch the Miners everywhere on the field. Still, the one thing I’m hoping to see this week is for the coaches to really hand the keys to the offense to Guarantano. He hasn’t thrown for close to even 200 yards yet this year and has just 38 passing attempts through two games. With the receiving corps being one of our strongest units and Guarantano having a great deal of untapped potential, this would be an excellent opportunity to let him throw 30+ times and build confidence and rhythm headed into the Florida game next week. Pruitt may instead decide to play conservatively and deny showing the Gators too much of the playbook, but this is really the last chance to get Guarantano playing at a higher level before the brutal stretch of the schedule begins.
Vanderbilt at Notre Dame
If you read Vol. 1, you know I’ll touch on some other interesting topics from the world of college football, as well. And for some reason, this game fascinates me. Notre Dame is getting -14.5 points despite barely surviving Ball State at home and not scoring more than 24 points in a game yet this season. Vandy meanwhile has two strong wins over decent opponents in MTSU and Nevada. Notre Dame is nowhere near the 8th best team in the country and I will be shocked if Vanderbilt doesn’t keep this one close. The SEC is already making a strong case this season that they are deeper this year than the few years prior and Vandy going into South Bend and stealing this upset would really solidify us as a true top-to-bottom conference again. For once in your life, do something good for me Vandy. Also, again, fuck Brian Kelly.
OSU at TCU
Remember when you heard that Urban Meyer was only suspended three games and you got pissed off and thought to yourself that money is the root of all evil in college sports and then looked at Ohio State’s schedule to see if they played anyone outside of the MAC in their first three games and then you noticed TCU and you thought “oh shit, there’s actually a chance they lose that one”? Well, this is that game. If Ohio State is going to have anything tangible to show for how horribly they handled the Zach Smith situation, it is going to be a loss to TCU. Do I think it happens? Absolutely not. The Buckeyes are really goddamn good and will roll the Frogs. But if there is any justice in the world, Urban Meyer will pay for playing the victim card at that press conference by having to plead to the CFP selection committee that the TCU loss shouldn’t count against the 12-1 Buckeyes since he wasn’t coaching. And instead he’ll watch a second SEC team get in for the second straight year. I smiled just thinking about it.
Check back next week for my hostile yet still overly optimistic preview of Florida. And if you like this content, check out more by clicking our Home page and giving me a follow on Twitter at @barnburnerziggy