Tennessee Vols celebrate Chick-fil-A Kickoff win over Georgia Tech

Tennessee’s Locks & Keys: Week 2

By now, you know the drill. If you don’t, check last week’s column for details. The long and short of it is we pick five keys for the Vols to beat this week’s opponent (which isn’t going to be that difficult, considering this week’s opponent is the Fightin’ Larry Birds of Indiana State) and then we give you five locks to place money on if gambling were legal.

Last week, I went 2-3, but that was a joke. In actuality, I’d have gone 4-1 because two of the games I flat-out LOVED were on Thursday night. Even though I wrote the column before then, it wouldn’t have done you guys any good, so I didn’t include them.

All in all, I went 19-6 ATS last week. It just so happened half of those losses were games I really, really liked, which is the reason why you shouldn’t gamble, kids.

I fell into the idiot pit of watching Week Zero and making too much out of a good offense playing a bad team, and that’s why I picked Colorado State to cover against rival Colorado. I thought the Buffaloes would have a hard time replacing all that defensive talent and coordinator Jim Leavitt, but they didn’t. Also, quarterback Steven Montez looked pretty darn good in a 17-3 win. So, yeah, that one was bad.

I like Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen a ton, but the Cowboys threw up a duck fart against Iowa, so we’re going to pretend those two games didn’t happen. Bad, bad losses. As for the Vols, I was worried about that game throughout the offseason, but I’m not complaining one bit. That one-point lead didn’t win me any of your hearts picking games, but I’m just happy UT is 1-0.

Michigan and LSU were free money.

With that, it’s onto Tennessee’s keys this week. Since it would be a shocker of all shockers for the Vols to lose to the Sycamores, let’s take a look at five keys the Vols need to this game that will help them prepare for next week’s game against Florida at the Swamp. Any practice UT gets this week should give them a leg up on the Gators, who had to cancel their game against Northern Colorado this Saturday because of the threat of Hurricane Irma.

Prayers for all those folks in her path.

Let’s see how the Vols did on last week’s keys in their 42-41 double-overtime win over Georgia Tech before we move on.

  • Fit the run: Though the first few series were fine, Tennessee did not do a good job of this throughout the night. The Vols were gashed up the middle and beat off the edge. It should have cost them the game. FAIL.
  • Find the right mix on the O-line: This looked ugly early, but as the game went on, Tennessee’s offensive line looked good, even without Drew Richomond. Senior center Jashon Robertson and freshman guard Trey Smith were impressive, and quarterback Quinten Dormady wasn’t sacked once. SUCCESS!
  • Let the depth of talent win the game: This did NOT happen. With all the defensive linemen and receivers standing over there watching, I wanted UT to use more of its younger players to give some of the older guys breaks. What ultimately won the game were timely turnovers and offensive execution. I can’t give this one a thumb’s up. FAIL.
  • Strategic strikes: UT didn’t have to throw the ball downfield a lot, but when it absolutely had to have a big play, Dormady went up top to Marquez Callaway, who made a leaping grab in front of two defenders. For that play alone, and for him making a quick pass and turning into a 50-yard score, this one is a SUCCESS!
  • Ride John Kelly: At one point in the late third quarter, Kelly inexplicably had just 10 carries. But in the fourth quarter and overtime, he finished with 93 rushing yards. He went beastmode, and kudos to offensive coordinator Larry Scott for giving him the ball. SUCCESS!

Here are Tennessee’s keys:

How about a little rotation, Shoop?

Defensive linemen Jonathan Kongbo, Darrell Taylor and — gasp! — Kahlil McKenzie were snap warriors last week, all playing more than 75 plays on defense. That is ridiculous and inexplicable against an offense like Georgia Tech’s. If Monday night’s lucky win over the Yellow Jackets was a “chess match” as Bob Shoop called it, the UT second-year defensive coordinator was playing checkers. Or patty-cake. Or something else.

He needs to start earning his money and start trusting his players. The best way for the Vols to build depth along the defensive front and begin relying on guys like Quay Picou, Alexis Johnson, Deandre Johnson, Matthew Butler and Kivon Bennett is to PLAY THEM AND LET THEM TAKE THEIR LUMPS! What was going to happen against Georgia Tech? Give up 535 rushing yards? Oh yeah, that happened anyway. This week against the Sycamores, the Vols need to give kids important reps and get them ready to rotate against Florida.

Preach progressions

There’s nothing wrong with the way Quinten Dormady played in his debut, especially once he settled down in the second half. But the Vols targeted Marquez Callaway an awful lot because he proved he was capable of taking over the game. That’s OK. But Dormady needs to start developing trust in other guys beginning this week.

At times, he looked toward sophomore receiver Brandon Johnson’s way against Tech, but they just didn’t hook up much. Latrell Williams played a lot and played well without having a catch. Freshman Joshua Palmer looked the part but didn’t break through, and guys like Tyler Byrd and Jordan Murphy can help, too. Jauan Jennings isn’t coming back for a while, if at all this season. UT is going to need more than just Callaway and tight end Ethan Wolf in big games.

This is an ideal game for Dormady to read through his progressions and get other guys integrated into the game plan.

Start stronger

Everybody wants to see this.

This season started out the way the Vols played a lot of last year: Getting off to sluggish starts and frantically coming back in the second half. Eventually, that caught up with UT toward the end of the season. Tennessee needs to put together four quarters, and that’s not speaking in cliche, either. There’s no reason for the starters to be out there more than a half in this game, which means they need to take care of business.

Get your reps. Get points on the board. Get out. That needs to happen in Neyland Stadium this weekend.

Build Up Bituli and Co.

I love Colton Jumper. You love Colton Jumper. Listen: We all love Colton Jumper.

But there shouldn’t be any Tennessee defense on Saturday without him in it. When the starters roll out there, Daniel Bituli and his 23 tackles against Tech needs to be out there. If you’re worried about him lining people up as a middle linebacker, this is the game to get him in there and see what he can do.

If he can’t play there as well as Jumper, you’ve got to get Cortez McDowell off the field and Bituli on it. That’s the bottom line. UT’s best defense is one with Bituli in it.

Also, guys who are more athletic on the second level such as sophomore Quart’e Sapp and freshman Will Ignont need to play a ton against the Sycamores. It’s the same thing as that first key for Shoop. How are you going to build faith in anybody with them standing on the sideline?

Don’t Get Anybody Hurt

I thought about putting something about playing Jarrett Guarantano here, but whatever. He’s going to play, and he should. We all need to get over him pouting on national TV on Monday night. He’s a 19-year-old kid.

He is the backup quarterback, and he needs plenty of reps on Saturday along with all the other backups. The Vols don’t need to get ANYBODY important hurt on Saturday. They don’t need to pad the stats and wind up with a season-killing injury to a guy like John Kelly or Darrell Taylor. Let those guys play their half, don’t do anything crazy, and keep your fingers crossed that they don’t have something freak happen.

UT has been snakebit the past two seasons with injuries. That needs to stop.

LOCKS

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m 2-3, and that’s all that matters. No matter what I want to brag about the 19-6 overall ATS. That doesn’t matter. Y’all don’t see my board; only these picks. I failed you.

We’ll make up for it this week. I’m giving you two extra games because I LOVE two extra games. Deal with it! Gotta get that winning percentage up!

  1. UTSA +16.5 over Baylor: Am I forgetting, or did this Baylor team just get beat by freaking Liberty? Now, they have to play Frank Wilson’s up-and-coming Roadrunners team, and I’m getting SIXTEEN AND A HALF POINTS?!?!? Something smells fishy about this one, but I really like Wilson, and I really like this line.
  2. Oklahoma State -28 over South Alabama: I’m gonna pick the Cowboys to cover in every game until they don’t cover. Last week, Shea Patterson threw for a bazillion yards in a 47-27 win over the Jags last week. Imagine what Mason Rudolph is gonna do.
  3. Iowa -3 over Iowa State: Last week, the Hawkeyes dominated a good Wyoming team with a great quarterback 24-3. It was never close. Now, they must travel to Ames to take on a rival. They may win this one 17-7, but the bottom line is the Cyclones can’t score enough for it to matter.
  4. Tulane and Navy over 47.5: Love rushing yards? This one’s for you. Willie Fritz was a cover machine when he was at Georgia Southern, and he has 16 starters back from his first Green Wave team that went 4-8. Navy runs a little, too. You’re telling me these teams won’t score seven touchdowns between them? Not buying it.
  5. Kansas -5.5 over Central Michigan: The Chippewas needed three overtimes to score 30 points and beat Rhode Island in the opening weekend. The Jayhawks obliterated that same team a year ago. The Jayhawks are going to start 2-0 for the first time in what seems like forever. This one’s my favorite of the week. Easy money.
  6. South Carolina +2.5 over Missouri: Ugh, this is a tough one. But I’ve been riding South Carolina for a long while now. I think this Tigers defense is absolutely putrid, and while both defenses were garbage in the first game, the Gamecocks have more talent on that side of the ball. They’ll get one more stop and win outright as the underdog at Mizzou.
  7. Houston -1 over Arizona: This is my second-favorite game of the weekend. I think Tom Herman left a ton of talent for Major Applewhite, and I believe former Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen will start and be stellar for the Cougars. Plus, UH has superior defensive talent. They’ll win on the road.

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