The Tennessee Vols opened the 2018 season this past weekend by losing 40-14 to the West Virginia Mountaineers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
Tennessee’s matchup with West Virginia was a bad one from the start. The Mountaineers’ high powered offense was too much for UT’s young defensive backs to overcome.
And even though West Virginia’s defense is one of the worst Power-5 defenses the Vols will face this season, it was still enough to stop Tennessee’s brand new, inexperienced offensive attack.
Starting off against a team that a lot of folks have predicted to win their conference isn’t ideal for a first time head coach. Or a team trying to rebuild after a disastrous 4-8 season.
But it is what it is and the Vols have to move forward.
Fortunately for Tennessee, their next two opponents, East Tennessee State and UTEP, aren’t nearly as good as West Virginia.
The next two games, which serve as a “warm-up” for a very important late September matchup with Florida, will allow Jeremy Pruitt to figure out the true identity of his team.
Offensively, Tennessee wasn’t able to do what they wanted to do against West Virginia. Offensive coordinator Tyson Helton wants the Vols’ offense to have power run aspects, while also taking down field shots. Against the Mountaineers, Tennessee was forced to use a lot of toss sweeps and short passes. This is mostly due to the fact that the offensive line wasn’t holding up all that well against West Virginia’s defensive line. Helton had to adjust his game plan just to get something going on offense.
I don’t believe what we saw against West Virginia is who the 2018 Volunteers truly are.
The matchups against East Tennessee State and UTEP will allow Tennessee’s coaches some freedom to work out the kinks in the offense and defense. We should see a more dynamic downfield passing attack on Saturday against East Tennessee State. The matchup will also allow Pruitt and his staff to go deeper into their offensive and defensive rotations to see who can help them this season.
The Vols obviously still have a long ways to go. But I think you’ll see a much different looking team on September 22 against the Gators.
I’m not saying I expect Tennessee to win that game (I’m sticking by my pre-season predictions), but I don’t think it will be a disaster like the second half of the West Virginia game.
Vol fans need to be patient this season. I know that’s the same refrain fans have heard for the past decade, but the Vols hit their biggest reset button ever last winter. Tennessee hit the lowest point in the history of their program. Pruitt doesn’t have a full deck to work with right now. This first season is a huge transition year that a lot of successful coaches have went through.
Nick Saban at Alabama (7-6), Kirby Smart at Georgia (the Bulldogs had a worse record in Smart’s first year than March Richt’s final season the year before), and Scott Frost at UCF (6-7 to 13-0) are just a couple of examples of a less than ideal first season.
Tennessee’s going to show us who they are over the next two weeks. And I feel confident that Vol fans will feel a lot better at the end of the month than they did this past Saturday.
Featured image via UT Athletics