Welcome to this week’s Brad-is-sick-as-a-dog-when-Tennessee-plays-the-Dawgs version of Locks & Keys! In other words, this one’s gonna be short and sweet, and let’s hope that since I coughed all over the words, you won’t catch whatever it is I have.
We all know two weeks ago was devastatingly disappointing for the Vols when they went to Gainesville and lost on the last play due to some baffling defense/decisions. We also know that last weekend’s near-miss debacle against UMass wasn’t indicative of what this UT team is.
So, what are we going to see this week?
As Will and I have both written, Tennessee’s game against Georgia could be a defining, decision point for coach Butch Jones’ tenure. It also could be a pivotal spot for Quinten Dormady to run with the quarterback job or for Jarrett Guarantano to get an extended look throughout the remainder of the season.
Don’t you just hate it when there’s so much on the line? That’s the picture Tennessee has painted itself in. There’s still so much to salvage this season. Beat the Bulldogs, and the Vols are right back in the thick of the divisional race. Unfortunately, that doesn’t look like it’s going to be easy at all.
Let’s take a quick look at last week’s locks. It wasn’t pretty. We went 4-4 with Utah, West Virginia, Duke and San Diego State all hooking us up. But Oklahoma State, Tulsa, Oregon and Florida decided not to play nice. Three of those lost outright. So, we’re 14-11-1 this year. That needs to get better. And it will.
Here are the keys, so let’s see if UT did them.
- Get Guarantano extended reps: I’m going to say this one’s even. He got what he needed. Butch put him in for three series, and all were three-and-out. However, he also put him in in perhaps the worst imaginable situation. So, I’m going with a FAIL.
- Can I get a Shamburger please? Nope. After we heard so much about this stud freshman, I can’t remember a single defensive rep all year. FAIL.
- Ty Time: Tennessee’s struggles didn’t exactly dictate the Vols leaning on a backup tailback, so it’s understandable that he wasn’t a huge part of the game. It did look like the Vols wanted to work him in. FAIL.
- Don’t get anybody hurt: Well, turns out this should have extended to the pregame, too. Shy Tuttle got hurt. Jashon Robertson wasn’t himself, and tight ends Ethan Wolf and Jakob Johnson got hurt in the game. FAIL.
- Let the Byrd fly: Tyler Byrd had just two catches for 21 yards, but one of them was a touchdown. EVEN.
Make Fromm Look Like a Freshman
So far, the savvy first-year former 5-star Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm has looked poised and awesome. It doesn’t matter whether he played in South Bend or at home in Athens against Mississippi State, he looked like he needs to be the guy no matter if Jacob Eason is ready or not.
He still hasn’t played in an environment like Neyland Stadium can be. Expect the old girl to be loud (at least at the beginning) and that could rattle Fromm, especially if the Vols can disguise some blitzes and generate a pass rush.
Slow the Big Three
Nick Chubb is beginning to look like Nick Chubb again, and that’s good news. But it isn’t great news for the Vols as the senior returns to the scene of his gruesome knee injury that set him back more than a year. Sony Michel and freshman D’Andre Swift are proving to be more than able backups.
UT’s defense hasn’t been bad against traditional offenses this year, but they’ve not faced a set of running backs like Georgia’s. The Vols won’t be able to totally stop them, but they must get some key stops on third downs, inside the 20-yard line and get the Dawgs off the field. They cannot let UGA control the game on the ground. You’ve got to put the game in the hands of the quarterback and hope.
Remember the Rhythm
What happened to Larry Scott’s play-calling? He was very good in the season’s first two games, and beginning with the inexplicable decisions inside the 10-yard line against Florida and culminating with the complete second-half failure against UMass, he looks like he’s in over his head.
Scott needs to remember he has John Kelly, and he needs to ride him. He also needs to put Quinten Dormady in position to complete high-percentage passes and take calculated shots downfield. The Vols cannot afford to be anything like they’ve been on offense the past two weekends, or they’ll get blown off their own field.
Turn ‘Em Over
Tennessee needs some crucial stolen points in this game, whether they’re created off turnovers or special teams. That’s the way the Vols beat Georgia the last time the Dawgs came to Neyland Stadium, and that needs to be the formula this time. Tennessee needs to be hyped up and aggressive. That needs to yield extra possessions.
Band Together and Coach this Team
I’m sick of hearing about Butch Jones. He’s not proved that he can be a high-caliber SEC coach yet, and he has been a gameday liability. All that can change if he begins to coach aggressively, puts the garbage behind him and mans up in this pivotal game. That’s what needs to happen if he wants to be UT’s coach in the future.
This Vols team has been criticized (rightfully so) and dragged through the coals. Everybody in the country is predicting Jones to be canned. This team should use that as motivation if it has any gumption about it. If it doesn’t, Jones could lose the locker room, and, ultimately, his job.
This is a tough week to pick games, but I see eight that I at least kind of like. I really like all of them except for Iowa.
- Duke +6.5 over Miami: I’m a Duke believer. All the Blue Devils do is win football games and cover spreads for me this year. This is the week where David Cutcliffe’s team gets in the rankings by beating the Hurricanes outright.
- USC -4 at Washington State: This is going to be a very good year for Mike Leach’s team, but the Cougars aren’t up to the caliber as the Trojans. Plus, the little not-ready-for-the-NFL comment Leach made about Sam Darnold will come back to haunt him.
- Vanderbilt +9 at Florida: The Commodores talked smack and got put in their place by Alabama like the little brother they are last week. They’ve been quieter this week, and I like VU to go into Gainesville and give Ralph Webb a big win against his hometown team. They’ll at least cover.
- Central Michigan-Boston College under 51: Neither of these teams can score. That tells you all you need to know.
- Iowa +3.5 at Michigan State: I still don’t believe in Brian Lewerke and the Spartans, who looked bad against Notre Dame last week. I think the Hawkeyes are better than the Irish, and I can’t believe they’re getting points. They win outright, so play the money line.
- Southern Miss -8 vs. North Texas: Maybe I’m just looking too much at the olden days of these programs, but the Mustard Buzzards aren’t bad, and they’re playing at home. They’ll cover.
- MTSU +3 at Florida Atlantic: This is my favorite play of the day. We still don’t know if Brent Stockstill or Richie James will play for the Blue Raiders, but Lane Kiffin’s program isn’t there yet. MTSU will win.
- Rutgers +30 vs. Ohio State: The Buckeyes will win this easily, but they’ve not blown anybody out really this year. Rutgers is bad but not atrocious. They’ll keep it within four touchdowns.
By the way, want a Vols score? It’s gonna be 31-20 Dawgs.