The Tennessee Vols will (finally) kick off their 2020 season on Saturday against the South Carolina Gamecocks.
In a shortened SEC season (10 regular season games instead of 12) that features a conference only schedule, the matchup against South Carolina is essentially a must-win for the Vols.
While this is a game that Tennessee should win, it’s far from an “automatic win”. South Carolina may not be a favorite to win the SEC East, but they’re still a team capable of pulling off upsets. And they’re led by a veteran head coach in Will Muschamp that has plenty of experience when it comes to beating the Vols.
That’s why I think Tennessee needs to switch things up on their first offensive drive against South Carolina and get creative.
First offensive drive of the season hasn’t been going well for the Vols
Over the last few years, the first offensive drive of the game hasn’t been going very well for the Vols.
When Tennessee kicked off the 2017 season against Georgia Tech, the Vols ran five plays for 10 yards and were forced to punt after using less than two minutes of game clock.
In 2018 against West Virginia, which was Jeremy Pruitt’s first game as UT’s head coach, Tennessee ran three plays for -15 yards. They went on to lose the game 40-14.
Last season, the Vols’ start to the season was even more disastrous. Jarrett Guarantano started the game with an incomplete pass, which was followed by a Ty Chandler fumbled that was recovered by Georgia State (UT went on to lose the opener to the Panthers).
It’s clear that starting the season with traditional play calling isn’t working for Tennessee — especially with Guarantano under center (he started the 2018 and 2019 openers).
So why not switch things up a bit in 2020?
I think the Vols should start the South Carolina game with true freshman Jimmy Holiday under center.
Maybe. But I think it could accomplish a couple of things.
Holiday was recruited to Tennessee as a dual-threat quarterback, but he was moved to wide receiver after signing with the Vols (so he could see the field quicker).
The Mississippi native has plenty of experience at quarterback. And he’s incredibly fast (reportedly runs a sub 4.40 40-yard dash).
Putting Holiday under center to start the game would completely confuse South Carolina (who is obviously preparing for Guarantano) and it would give UT some creative ways to start the game (wildcat, Holiday throwing the ball, hand off to Eric Gray, reverses, etc).
Not only would this probably catch the Gamecocks by surprise, it would also allow Guarantano to come off the bench.
For whatever reason, JG seems to perform better when he doesn’t start a game.
If the Vols had a stud quarterback I’d never suggest starting the game this way.
But in a season that’s already going to be weird and full of challenges, I just don’t think Tennessee can afford to go three-and-out and quickly hand the ball to South Carolina.
Vols offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is a mastermind when it comes to being creative, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see some wrinkles early in this matchup.
And who knows, maybe he takes my advice and utilizes Holiday’s versatility early in the game.
Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports/Tennessee Athletic Communications