Locks & Keys Week 9: Solving the Muschamp Puzzle

Will Muschamp is not a good football coach.

There is empirical evidence supporting this. It was obvious at Florida, and even though there have been some flashes at South Carolina, we’re beginning to see it this year as the Steve Spurrier recruits fade away and Muschamp gets “his” players in Columbia. The Gamecocks are 3-3 and have underachieved this entire year.

Yet, Will Muschamp owns Tennessee.

That same evidence we spoke of is present here, too, given the fact the Vols have never beaten Muschamp and his smart-aleck attitude during his days as a head coach. It doesn’t matter how much trash he talks or how garbage his attitude is or how good or bad his teams are, they always one-up the Vols.

Can Jeremy Pruitt put an end to that? In fairness to UT, the Vols have been coached by Butch Jones and Derek Dooley during Muschamp’s era as a head football coach, so it isn’t like Bryant, Saban or Lombardi was leading them through the ‘T’, but that is no excuse for Muschamp holding this sort of ownership of the Vols.

Tennessee has to do something about that. The Vols probably aren’t as good as the Gamecocks this year, but they weren’t as good as Auburn, either, and won. It can happen, and a win this week breaks the curse and propels UT toward a probable bowl berth.

Yeah, it’s that big. Let’s take a look at the Locks & Keys.

KEYS

Make the right QB decision

There hasn’t been much this week on the health of Jarrett Guarantano. He’s been at practice, and he’s been going through reps, even if some of the reporters who’ve seen limited reps say he doesn’t show the same zip on his passes or look fully healthy after the blow he took last week against Alabama.

If that’s the case, Keller Chryst needs to start.

Pruitt is faced with a bit of a quarterback conundrum this week. Chryst looked strong in relief of JG, but JG had a career game against the Auburn Tigers the week before. The decision Pruitt makes on who is under center will have a direct impact on the game, and whoever he choses, the other guy needs to be ready, and the coaching staff doesn’t need to hesitate to go in the other direction.

This is the “real” season, and every decision matters. The guess here is JG will go, but if he isn’t himself, it’s time to try Chryst. The postseason may very well be on the line.

Play for Trey

Just devastating news that Trey Smith again is dealing with blood clot issues in his lungs. Not only does this mean his season is in jeopardy, but his football career is, too. If he continues to play, though, his life could be. That is paramount to get him healthy and to ensure he has the quality of life needed to be a productive citizen, a father, a husband, live a life. Those are the vital things.

Football is secondary.

But this is a football column, and we have to talk about how this impacts the Vols. Smith had struggled much of the season after a 6-month layoff, but you’re still talking about losing your most talented football player who started every game at left tackle this season. For an offensive line already struggling mightily, that’s going to be a huge puzzle piece to replace. Where do the Vols go from here?

One thing is certain: They need to rally behind this. The offensive line needs to play for its fallen brother, and the run game needs to start being able to find some lanes behind this rebuilt O-line. It’s not like they’re playing the Crimson Tide or AU Tigers this weekend. Carolina is 12th in the league in rush defense, so the Vols need to do some positives things on the ground.

Limit Bentley

The Gamecocks are hellbent on playing Jake Bentley for some reason, though it looks like Michael Scarnecchia is the quarterback who can move the ball vertically best. Tennessee needs to make them pay.

Bentley has been very wishy-washy this year, and he doesn’t need to all of a sudden re-find his form against the Vols. South Carolina has been turning the ball over too much this year, and Bentley has done his share to give the ball to the other team, which means the Vols need to turn back to their old opportunistic ways from the Auburn game.

Bentley is a talented, tough kid who can break out of this season-long slumber. Tennessee has to make sure that he doesn’t. If he plays the way he’s capable, UT isn’t beating South Carolina. That means Pruitt and Co. need to dial up creative blitzes, confuse him and pressure him into mistakes.

Take care of the football

This Tennessee team can’t give away extra possessions; it’s that simple.

If the Vols have two or more turnovers against South Carolina, they will not win the game. The Gamecocks aren’t great on offense, but UT has to win this game with its offense, and, more precisely, the passing game. That means JG or Chryst need to not throw interceptions, and Tennessee can’t put the ball on the ground.

This Tennessee team lives and dies by its ability to take care of the ball and to force the other team into mistakes. Both those things have to keep happening for 2018 version of UT to close the talent gap.

Don’t get run out of Williams-Brice early

Tennessee has been a better road team this year for whatever reason, and that needs to continue against a team that is coming off a bye week with a lot to prove after starting the season 3-3.

The Vols need to make South Carolina punt early, get up a score and take the crowd out of it. That didn’t happen, even in the win over Auburn, as UT has been a slow-starting squad all year. But that has burned UT much of the season. If the Vols are the aggressor in this one, it will really benefit Tennessee.

This could be one of those games where Tennessee stuns everybody again. But it isn’t going to happen if the Vols wait around until the second quarter to get cranking.

Prediction: South Carolina 27, Tennessee 23

LOCKS

Last week was a bit better, as we went 4-3 to regroup and rebound after the 1-6 Nightmare on Par Street prior to my vacation. On the bright side, I picked the Purdue upset, which would have been fantastic if, you know, I had the guts to put real money on it. Western Michigan easily covered over Central Michigan, Cal cruised over Oregon State, and Arkansas did the same against Tulsa.

On the poop-your-pants side, Wisconsin and Illinois stunned everybody and went two touchdowns over the 55-point total. Thought that one would go under easily. Washington State outright pounded Oregon, and North Texas lost outright to UAB.

For the year, I’m 24-25, and, yes, we’re going over .500 this week. The goal for the year is .600, and there is a long way to go to get back there. But it starts this week.

  1. Purdue +2.5 over Michigan State: Several of the games this week fit the “letdown” mode, and, yes, it scares me that I’m picking a few of them. But the Boilermakers offense is too good. No, I don’t think they’re still going to be riding the Ohio State high. Jeff Brohm is a great coach, and this team has turned a corner. They’re going on the road and beating Sparty.
  2. TCU and Kansas over 48.5: TCU’s defense hasn’t really stopped anybody this year, but now Kansas comes to town, and that’s a remedy for any D. The Jayhawks still will score three times, and the Horned Frogs won’t have an issue against KU. This one is going at least 5-7 points over.
  3. Washington State +2.5 over Stanford: Here is another one of those potential letdown games after Wazzu won an emotional game over Oregon a week ago in Pullman with ESPN College GameDay present. Stanford is beyond capable of winning this game in Palo Alto, but I’m not a believer in Stanford’s offense. Give me the Leaches.
  4. Tennessee +8 over South Carolina: I believe in Jeremy Pruitt. I wasn’t sure earlier this year, but I think the Vols are getting there. They are getting the most out of their talent, and I like UT to go on the road this week and at least keep it close, maybe pull out a win.
  5. Texas -3.5 over Oklahoma State: I’m sweating this one, simply because I’m not sure the Longhorns are as good as their No. 6 ranking would lead you to believe. But the word is late this week that quarterback Sam Ehlinger is expected to play. If he does, the Horns roll.
  6. Oregon -9.5 over Arizona: This is a battle of the teams that have let me down this year. Arizona, I was sold on early in the year, and boy oh boy, they let me down. Same with Oregon last week. But Justin Herbert is going to throw all over the Wildcats.
  7. Washington -11 over California: Washington is too much for the Bears. They are going to win this game by 17 or more points.

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Harley
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Harley

My guess is that one good hit on JG will knock him out of the game if he starts. The lack of zip on the ball with bruised ribs and sternum is probably due to pain and stiffness. Rib pads will help, but he probably has a very painful injury that doesn’t allow him to follow through on his passes. Go Vols!!

Pete
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Pete

Georgia -6.5 over Florida. The Dawgs are better than they showed against LSU. Florida is not a top 10 team. Okla -24.5 over Kansas State. The Sooners need style points to get into the playoff discussion. Big Scoreboard. Duke -2.5 over Pitt. Coach Cutt in a pick ’em game of less than a field goal? And Pitt’s about as good as Vandy? Let’s go Coach K, um, C! Wash -11 over Cal. Agree with Brad that this is a gift. Vols +8 over SC. Could lose in a blowout if we have Florida style turnover game but I really like… Read more »

Alyas Grey
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Alyas Grey

BC +3.5 vs. Miami Arkansas +1.5 vs. Vanderbilt Missouri -7.5 vs. Kentucky Nevada +2.5 vs. SDSU TAMU +2.5 at Mississippi State Syracuse +0.5 vs. NC State Oregon -9.5 at Arizona I just do not bet on Tennessee unless the spread is just obscene and this one is within the range where if I’m wrong about this team it’s reasonable. I don’t think most observers of our team fully understand just how close we are to being a really good football team. With accurate and smart QB play we’ve got weapons everywhere and have been fortunate that our tailbacks have been… Read more »

Alyas Grey
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Alyas Grey

I want the fans to watch this “film study” from the Alabama game.

https://youtu.be/KLW__zDiuNY

Our cornerbacks are arguably the best I’ve seen in thirty-plus years watching Tennessee football. That, and the immense improvement in our pass blocking given the unwinnable talent situation, give me some serious hope about this staff and team.

Joel Hollingsworth
Admin

Thanks for posting that. It’s fantastic. It also shows just how spectacularly good Alabama is. I had the general feeling that we really didn’t play that poorly, just that they were too perfect, and that film study kind of supported that.