Locks & Keys 6: Vols vs. BYE

The rumor mill hasn’t been kind to the Vols this week as there are whispers that freshman safety Trevon Flowers has a collarbone injury and is walking around campus in a sling after getting hurt in practice.

It seems even when Tennessee doesn’t play, it loses.

The Vols need to get healthy this week before the Auburn-Alabama-South Carolina gauntlet, but it appears the opposite is happening. The Vols hopefully used this off week to work on fundamentals, and the coaches needed to use it to get a head start on Auburn.

Believe it or not, the Tigers are beatable. Sure, UT should (and will) be double-digit underdogs at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but AU isn’t explosive. It’s defense is really, really good, but the offense isn’t going to scare anybody. This weekend’s game against Mississippi State will be a rugged tilt, and the Tigers could be banged-up heading into the game. Let’s look at just two things Tennessee should have done in the bye week.

KEYS

Develop the youngsters who look like possible difference-makers

It’s going to be interesting to see if there are any players we’ve not seen much of yet this year who can get on the field during the second half of the season. Star prospect linebacker JJ Peterson came in out-of-shape long after practice began, but the Vols would be thrilled if he was coming along and was able to provide valuable snaps.

Will that happen? If it does, we’ve not heard anything about it yet.

Beyond Peterson, though, there are some good, young players who’ve shown flashes this year. If they can emerge and get more consistent, Tennessee will be a better, more athletic, more talented team. Some of those guys are:

Linebackers Will Ignont and Quart’e Sapp. Ignont is a sophomore who is earning more and more trust and playing time. It doesn’t look like he’d always grade out well and isn’t always in the right place, but he plays fast and makes tackles. He just needs to be more consistent. A week after the rumors of Sapp leaving the sideline against Florida, he played his most snaps against Georgia and was a playmaker. It’s obvious the junior needs to be on the field. The Vols need to keep him there.

Of course, defensive backs Bryce Thompson, Alontae Taylor (and Flowers, if he’s healthy) upgrade the back end. They needed to spend the off week learning and playing faster. If Flowers is out, it’s time for Shawn Shamburger to get out of the doghouse and back on the field.

Defensive lineman Matthew Butler, wide receiver Jordan Murphy and running back Jeremy Banks are other guys who need to be more disciplined, get more consistent and earn snaps. The Vols need to be looking to the future while playing in the present.

Find important depth

Coach Jeremy Pruitt made a couple of position switches this week, moving fullback Ja’Quain Blakeley and tight end LaTrell Bumphus to the defensive line where UT needs depth and athleticism.

What if one of those guys stick and is able to provide snaps? They aren’t really contributing where they were, so it doesn’t hurt to try them there. Both are excellent athletes who need to work their way onto the field somewhere.

Will there be other guys emerge, too? UT hopes so.

LOCKS

Meh, we went 3-4 last week as the early-night games killed us. Thanks for nothing, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, BYU and Hawaii. You’d been good to us until last week, and this is the thanks we get? Thankfully, the Ohio State-Penn State under, Purdue and West Virginia saved us from total disaster.

We are at 19-16 ATS on the year. Yeah, that needs to be better. This week, we’re going 7-0.

  • Missouri -1.5 over South Carolina: This line has moved so much in the Tigers’ favor this week, and rightfully so. Yes, I know this is in Columbia, S.C., but Drew Lock and Co. are coming off a bye week and that offense will be clicking. They cover easy.
  • Alabama/Arkansas over 58: Alabama could hit this number on its own, even though the Hogs’ defense isn’t bad at all. It won’t go way over, but the Hogs will add some late points against UA’s third-team defense to go over.
  • Syracuse -3.5 over Pittsburgh: This definitely has letdown game written all over it after the Orange’s near-upset at Clemson a week ago. But the Panthers aren’t great, and Dino Babers’ team is solid and on the come-up. Syracuse wins this one by a touchdown or more.
  • LSU -2 over Florida: Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t understand this line at all. Both defenses are strong, but Feleipe Franks against that LSU secondary? Ugh. Tigers will win by double-digits in the Swamp.
  • Miami -13 over Florida State: If there’s one I’m not sure about out of these seven, it’s this one. But the Seminoles are awful, and Miami is resurgent with N’Kosi Perry at QB. Turnover chains jangle against Deondre Francois.
  • Ole Miss/Louisiana-Monroe under 75.5: Ole Miss may have the worst defense in the Power 5, but it isn’t bad enough to get trounced by Monroe. The Rebels are going to work on some things in this one that will slow things down a little. This one won’t approach the number.
  • California -2.5 over Arizona: Free money. Kevin Sumlin-Khalil Tate is a dreadful marriage, and the Wildcats just can’t score enough. Justin Wilcox still has things moving in the right direction at Berkeley even after last week’s bad showing against Oregon.

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Charles Matthews

Is it too late to take the points?