By Andrew Darago, VFL Insider
Tennessee football is officially back following their mid-season bye week. The scheduling gods played a cruel trick on the Vols, giving them a bye the week before playing South Carolina. There is no doubt that Vol Nation remembers how that went during the 2016 season.
Despite what Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said this week, it was hardly the best bye week he’s ever had. Transfers, rumors of transfers, a change at quarterback, and a player on player kick to the face all took place since the Vols last took the field. Let’s jump into it like we always do and see who has the edge this week.
Last game we said we didn’t know how the quarterbacks would be used going into the Georgia game. This week, we do.
Redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano will be getting his first career start following Coach Jones’ confirmation of the news on Wednesday. Quinten Dormady is still on the team, despite rumors that he was considering leaving the team after he found out he had been benched. It will be interesting to see how Dormady handles himself on the sideline, especially if you paid attention to how Guarantano did when he wasn’t playing.
Jake Bentley had his coming out party against the Vols last season. This is his first trip to Neyland Stadium though. He’s thrown 12 touchdowns to four interceptions on the year and is averaging 7.75 yards per attempt. Guarantano is averaging 2.25 yards per attempt. Jones has said they are adjusted the offense to suit Guarantano’s skill set. Maybe this year, Tennessee’s quarterback will have a coming out party of his own.
EDGE: South Carolina
Strongly considered copying and pasting what was written about John Kelly two weeks ago and just calling it a day. Kelly is the Tennessee offense. The unfortunate part of that is that the entire SEC knows it.
Kelly will continue to run hard, but he still needs help from the other skill positions. Guarantano’s ability to run could help, but only if Tennessee actually uses that ability and South Carolina isn’t ready for it. Expect a nice run or two from South Carolina, but their offense is more focused on throwing the ball.
Wide Receivers vs Defensive Backs
Tennessee’s wide receivers live and die by the play of their quarterback. Marquez Callaway is still stuck at eight catches while Tyler Byrd is slowly working his way into the rotation. The Vols’ wide receivers are going to have to adjust to a new quarterback and a Will Muschamp defense that is only giving up under 250 yards per game.
Tennessee’s secondary still appears to be a puzzle, with whoever is playing good at the moment completing said puzzle that day. South Carolina is averaging 12.8 yards per catch to Tennessee’s 11.1. Tennessee has more talent, they just need to get the ball in their hands.
Offensive Line vs Defensive Line
Darrell Taylor was already going to miss the first half of this game due to a penalty against Georgia. Now that he has been suspended indefinitely, the Vols will be without arguably their best defender for this game.
South Carolina is averaging 3.3 yards per carry while Tennessee is a full yard better at 4.3. Expect the Gamecocks to pass often, which means the burden of pressure lies on the defensive line to give the secondary a chance to stop Jake Bentley, who came out of nowhere last season against the Vols.
Tennessee’s offensive line knows they just need to block long enough to give John Kelly a chance in open field where South Carolina gets to try to bring the powerful runner down. Until Shy Tuttle and Jonathan Kongbo live up to the hype though, it is hard to give Tennessee the edge on the d-line.
Depending on what side of the coin you want to look at, you can either believe the players that have said there are no issues in the locker room or you can look at the multiple rumors of fights and possible transfers. Let’s go with a little sunshine in this case and believe what the players are saying. This Tennessee team knows they have not been playing well. They want to use this game against the Gamecocks to prove they can work together and get the job done.
Will Muschamp is undefeated against Butch Jones going back to his days coaching at Florida. With all the stats that he regularly mentions, there is no doubt that Jones is aware of that and he likely wants to get that monkey off his back. At the same time, possible team chemistry issues plus a redshirt freshman starting his first game are thoughts the hopefully Jones will be able to block out and get his team back on track.
Jones and offensive coordinator Larry Scott may open up the playbook a little given Guarantano’s skill set which South Carolina may not be ready for. That said, Jones tends to overthink even the smallest things and Muschamp’s streak over him is likely too large to block out.
EDGE: South Carolina
Based on the topics above, this game is a push. Tennessee is favored by about three points which is likely from having home field advantage. If Tennessee wants to keep that home field advantage, they need to come out quick and be sharp. A noon kick-off, a slow start, and/or being behind at halftime could be disastrous as the fans may start heading for the door.
Featured Image via USA Today