At this point, I feel like Tennessee is going to struggle to make a bowl game. But that’s not to say the Vols can’t.
When you have a game like they had against South Carolina where you’ve got myriad opportunities to win and you can’t come through with the W, it gives you an ominous feeling about the rest of the year.
The Vols should come away with the home win this weekend against Charlotte, even if Tim Jordan and Ty Chandler are banged-up and UT is going to nurse some injuries. If that happens, you look at needing to win two of three remaining games against Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt.
Everybody knows UK’s story, and there’s no way you can predict a win against the ‘Cats, even if they’ve not blown everybody’s socks off. They’re still a one-loss team and a top-10 team in the country. They win with defense and running back Benny Snell, and they’re a bad matchup for the Vols because they’re so good along both lines of scrimmage. Tennessee can win that game at home, but the Vols also shouldn’t cry if UK gets banged up against Georgia this weekend.
That leaves Mizzou and Vanderbilt. In the game against the Tigers, UT will be at home, and that may be the worst remaining matchup, thanks to quarterback Drew Lock. He hasn’t had a big season, but he’s got a big arm, and Tennessee has been susceptible to pass-happy teams. Tennessee desperately needs injured safety Trevon Flowers back by then. The Vols match up well against the Commodores, but Kyle Shurmur torched them the past two years. With Ke’Shawn Vaughn looking like a budding star, that’s going to be a challenge for UT. Getting Flowers back will be huge.
Play the young guys
Everybody was excited to see Jeremy Banks get a lot of run with the linebackers on Saturday after his move there prior to the South Carolina game, but then Chandler and Jordan get hurt, and coach Jeremy Pruitt has him back at running back this week.
Banks is going to help this team as a starter down the road somewhere, and we need to see him get extended looks this weekend. Maybe on both sides of the ball (though I doubt that will happen).
JJ Peterson has seen only special teams action so far, but it’s time to get him on the defense and see if he can help this team on that side of the ball for the stretch run or if he’s a redshirt candidate. He was UT’s best commitment of the first Pruitt class, but the time has come to make the decision if he helps now or down the road.
John Mincey needs an extended look on the defensive line, especially considering Tennessee needs some answers there next season with so many departing seniors. I want to see receiver Cedric Tillman get a few targets. Guys like Kurott Garland and Greg Emerson technically could even get a few snaps and redshirt. So could quarterback JT Shrout, whom everybody wants to see.
Can those players get extended run and UT win? We’ll see.
Don’t let ’em hang around
You may laugh about a team like the Charlotte 49ers hanging around at Neyland Stadium.
This is a bad football team, but it’s one that played better recently, losing by one score to MTSU and beating Southern Miss. The last time we laughed about a team like this coming to UT and hanging around, the Vols were lucky to beat UMass last year.
This Tennessee team that plays on Saturday won’t be the one it trotted out against Alabama or South Carolina. It will be missing some key players it tries to rest before the important final three games. The guys who go out there need to take care of business from the jump.
There is nothing wrong with the Vols’ game plan against South Carolina. It worked offensively, after all.
They dinked and dunked down the field, using the horizontal passing game with swings to running backs and receivers to help open up a decent running game. That’s all fine and good against similar teams.
But UT needs to open it up against Charlotte. The dynamic downfield passing attack beat Auburn, and the Vols may need it in other games this year, particularly next week against Kentucky, whose defense is too good to just let you go up and down the field.
Who knows if Jarrett Guarantano is completely healthy or how much he’ll play, but whoever is under center needs to test the Niners downfield all day.
No major injuries
Again, with basically no depth, the rest of this season is going to be an all-hands-on-deck situation if the Vols are going to have any chance of going to the postseason. Technically, UT could make a bowl at 5-7, and this is actually a year the Vols would need to take that with so much youth. But hopefully, they can get to the magic six-win window.
Is it sad we’re hoping for six wins again? Yes, it is. But it does feel like those days are coming to an end under Pruitt. This year is what it is.
The Vols can’t afford to suffer any major injuries like one to a quarterback, Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway, Daniel Bituli, Bryce Thompson, Alontae Taylor or Nigel Warrior. They need to keep those dudes healthy at all costs and win this game.
Prediction: It’s going to be ugly, but Tennessee will win relatively easily. Vols 34-13
I continued to limp last week to a 3-4 record, falling to 27-29 ATS this year [which pretty much mirrors the pick-em league I’m in]. After two really good years of picking games, this season, it just hasn’t been there. We’ll try to get back on track this week. We need a good 6-1 or 5-2 week to surge ahead.
I’d like to promise you it will be this week. The good news is that I’m 8-1 ATS in picking the MACtion and other early-week games so far. Maybe that’s the sign of a turnaround. Or maybe it’s just setting me up for failure. I like so many games this week, and that scares me. Let’s get to the picks.
- MTSU -13.5 over Western Kentucky: In the past few seasons, this has been a rivalry game. But the Hilltoppers are awful this season with just one win. MTSU isn’t the same high-powered offense it’s been in recent years, but the Raiders still have enough of it to cover.
- Georgia -9 over Kentucky: The Wildcats are a very nice story, and everybody should be excited about watching this team at home in such a huge game with the SEC East on the line. But the Bulldogs are still the cream of the SEC East, and UK doesn’t have the offensive horses to hang.
- Florida -6 over Missouri: I don’t understand this line at all, especially with the Gators at home coming off a frustrating better-than-it-looked loss against Georgia. They will take care of business against Mizzou.
- Boston College -2.5 over Virginia Tech: Did anybody see this Hokies defense against the run vs. Georgia Tech? Now they have to go against A.J. Dillon? Yes, this game is in Blacksburg. No, it won’t matter.
- USC -16.5 over Oregon State: With JT Daniels now getting to play against perhaps the worst Power 5 defense in the nation, expect the Trojans to get better in a hurry.
- California – Washington State over 50: Never bet the under in a game with a Mike Leach-coached team. I feel like this should be a maxim, even with this decent Wazzu D.
- West Virginia +2 over Texas: This game is in Austin, and it’s not going to be easy. But I like Will Grier against the struggling ‘Horns secondary.