Locks & Keys Week 5: Dawg Gone Shame

I have never felt the way I did sitting in Neyland Stadium last week. Ever. It was a hopeless, helpless feeling. Being competitive feels so far away as everything fell apart in what wound up being a 47-21 loss to Florida.

I didn’t even see the last touchdown because I left early for just the third time in all the years, all the games I’ve been to. I was disgusted and disgruntled. And here’s the thing: It’s likely going to be worse this week. It probably will be worse against Auburn. It absolutely will be cringe-worthy worse against Alabama.

We’re fans, though. We’ve got to suck it up and hope. This weekend, the Vols head to Athens where they are more than 31-point underdogs. That’s unfathomable to me, especially considering we’re just a couple years removed from this game traditionally being decided by a score or less.

But things have changed. UGA is one of the top teams in the nation, coming into this tilt with the Vols ranked No. 2. Kirby Smart is recruiting as well as anybody in the nation. Not only is it going to hurt seeing former 5-star commitment Cade Mays playing in the red and black, he’s starting and shining as a true freshman.

It’s enough to make you sick, on top of everything else.

Nobody expects Tennessee to be anywhere near in this game, so — look on the bright side — if the Vols come out and surprise everybody, it could make us feel much better about the direction of the season.

Again, though, don’t expect it. Not this week.

KEYS

Stop the slow

I know that every week this is on the list, and it will be until the Vols stop it. They absolutely cannot get off to a slow start every week; they aren’t good enough to overcome it.

Against West Virginia, the Mountaineers punched them in the mouth right away, and UT never recovered. Against two awful teams in ETSU and UTEP, the Vols sputtered at the front. Then, against the Gators, UT turned the football over on the first two possessions, watched Florida convert them into touchdowns, and it was never close.

Shawn Shamburger even fumbled the second half’s opening kickoff leading to a one-play Gators scoring drive, proving that there’s something about layoffs that is killing the Vols.

Jeremy Pruitt must do something about that. If it happens this week, the Dawgs will blow them out of Samford Stadium.

Squeaky clean

Say what you want about last weekend’s embarrassment, and there’s plenty to say about how thoroughly ugly it was. But UT turned the ball over six — SIX!!!! — times.

The Vols literally handed Florida 28 points on a silver platter. Two of Jarrett Guarantano’s turnovers were directly turned into touchdowns. Shamburger’s second-half special teams blunder led to another touchdown. Then, we won’t soon forget Austin Pope fumbling through the end zone on another would-be score for the Vols.

That’s 21 points for Florida and -7 points for the Vols.

Tennessee lost by 26.

You do the math.

The Vols aren’t good enough to overcome those mistakes. Against a team like Georgia, the Bulldogs will make things ugly quickly if it continues. Tennessee has to take care of the ball.

Keep Guarantano clean, too

There’s nothing wrong with the way redshirt sophomore Guarantano has played this year. Those calling for somebody else to start are being ridiculous.

But he still hangs onto the ball too long, and he still gets shaky when defenders are breathing down his neck. Yes, Guarantano is a super-tough kid, but he also isn’t the biggest quarterback, and Cece Jefferson knocked him out of the UF game [albeit with a cheap shot]. The Vols can’t afford to A) get him hurt or B) let him operate under as much duress as he has so far.

Guarantano needs to do a better job of moving the pocket, and if offensive coordinator Tyson Helton was smart [which is still far up in the air at this point] he would design some plays to help him do that. But Tennessee’s offensive line is horrible, and it can’t continue that way.

If what is trotting out there isn’t working, change it. Give K’Rojhn Calbert a shot. Give Marcus Tatum an extended look. Move Trey Smith back inside. Do SOMETHING (anything?) to make things easier on JG.

The kid isn’t good when he’s being pressured. Think Georgia and Mel Tucker don’t know that? You’re crazy.

Turnover time

Tennessee’s defense was not bad against Florida, and it’s obvious the Vols are improving on that side of the ball. They were excellent in third-down defense, and when Florida had long fields, they didn’t do all that well.

Yes, there were too many big plays, but the Vols weren’t bad. It needs to get better and better.

One thing UT needs to do is generate more big plays. Pruitt’s defense needs to create game-changing plays, helping its offense out in this one. Without them, Tennessee cannot win.

Color blind

I fully believe the Vols aren’t as awful as they were last Saturday night. If they are, it’s going to be at least three years before they’re back; plain and simple. Instead, I think it was just too many mistakes, and once they got down against Florida, nobody expected they were going to beat Florida.

That jersey holds sway over UT. Always has.

The red-and-black jerseys haven’t, and they don’t need to start now. If the Vols play scared football, they’ll get killed because UGA is a much, much better football team with far more talent. The Vols need to play with swagger, and they need to play with a clean slate. It’s the only way to have hope.

Prediction: Georgia 41, Tennessee 14

LOCKS

We. Are. Back!

After an awful week last time out, we rebounded with a 5-2 slate to improve to 16-12 for the season. That’s makin’ money, y’all! That’s a good thing, too, because we need to stay hot. Because, you know, the Vols ain’t. And we’ve got to have some reason to watch college football.

Here is this week’s lucky seven.

  1. West Virginia -3.5 over Texas Tech: I will forever believe that a Will Grier-led team will obliterate a team with zero defense. Texas Tech can score, but the Red Raiders will not score enough to win this game. At least the Mountaineers play a little bit of defense.
  2. Purdue -3.5 over Nebraska: A week ago, I said the Boilermakers were the best 0-3 team in football. Now they’re the best 1-3 team in football. And though Adrian Martinez will be back for Scott Frost’s team, the Cornhuskers’ issues are deeper than just quarterback. Jeff Brohm keeps it rolling.
  3. Hawaii -11.5 over San Jose State: I feel like Vegas is still disrespecting Cole McDonald’s dual-threat abilities. Now he’s going against an atrocious pass defense. Warriors will dominate this one.
  4. Florida Atlantic -4.5 over MTSU: Lane Kiffin is coming back to Tennessee as a head coach for the first time since he was with the Vols. It’s on a much smaller stage, but he may be playing a better team than the Vols. His Owls will still outscore Brent Stockstill and the Raiders.
  5. North Texas -7.5 over Louisiana Tech: La Tech is a good team. The Mean Green is the most underrated team in the nation. Yes, Arkansas is terrible, but North Texas DOMINATED an SEC team, even if it’s a shell of an SEC team. I’m riding the Green.
  6. Ohio State/Penn State under 67.5: It’s going to be a fun matchup watching the Nittany Lions offensive line against the Buckeyes defensive line, and it’s a shame Nick Bosa is out until November. But it’s not like these teams are devoid of defense. This is a huge number. The under is screaming at me.
  7. BYU +17 over Washington: I love the way Kalani Sitake gets his team up for big games. I also am not a believer in the Huskies anymore as Jake Browning has regressed as much as any “star” player in college football since Matt Barkley. Washington was favored by far too much against Arizona State last week, and I said take the Sun Devils. They covered with ease. Do the same this week with the Cougs.

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Harley
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Harley

Let’s catch them looking ahead… let’s keep it respectable… and stranger things have happened. Go Vols!!