Last week: perhaps the best week for Most Important Vol. Derek Barnett? Two sacks and a TFL in the second half. Butch Jones? Fist pump. Bob Shoop? Ice cream. Shy Tuttle? Still huge. Offensive line, the people’s choice with 51% of the vote? Such a question coming in they still dominated the conversation in such a dynamic week, then didn’t really get talked about in the way successful offensive lines don’t coming out. And you if you were in Neyland Stadium? It’s Wednesday morning and I think I’m just now fully recovered. Great job, team.
On to the next one:
Will Shelton - Butch Jones
New territory! How will the Vols handle getting the biggest win of this era? Two of his three biggest wins in his first three seasons were followed immediately by the Crimson Tide (though the Vols were certainly ready to go in that one last year), so it's tough to judge. The 2014 South Carolina win was followed with a bye week, then one of the most thorough beat downs Jones' Vols have shown in the 50-16 win over Kentucky, so that's a good sign. Tennessee is riding way higher right now, and Georgia is suddenly easier to overlook in a game that could put the key in the door to Atlanta. I think Butch's demeanor will serve the Vols well here, but it's certainly a new challenge for this team to turn all this passion into their first road win in Athens in ten years just seven days later.
Incipient_Senescence -- Jauan Jennings
Jennings was the spark against Florida when the rest of the team had been either jittery or dispirited (or both). As Will noted, Georgia has gotten a lot easier to overlook all of a sudden, and Tennessee is coming off what may be their biggest win since Fulmer. They could easily come out flat. If they do, they'll need another spark, and Jennings seems like the man to turn to.
Volundore - The OL
Facing the nation's best defense, statistically speaking, the Vols managed 3.9 yards per carry and only allowed one sack. Those are solid, and reflect a less horrifying performance from the offensive line than we'd seen in the first 3 weeks. The challenge doesn't look quite as daunting this week (UGA gives up 139.8 yards per game on the ground, 51st in the nation and has 4 sacks through 4 games), but they have also played three P5 opponents. With Chance Hall back in action, the OL needs to continue to gel against UGA to keep the good vibes going in preparation for the terrors that await on October 8th and October 15th.
Justin Phillips - Colton Jumper
We see you, Jumper. As one big streak ended in Neyland, the former walk-on stepped up and made his presence felt against the Gators. Colton Jumper led the defensive unit with eight tackles and added a pass breakup. This week the Vols face a Georgia Bulldog team that wants to establish the run, with or without Nick Chubb in the starting lineup. The Dawgs feature a stable of talented backs behind Chubb, including Sony Michel, Brian Herrien, and Elijah Holyfield. Kirby Smart will want to protect his young signal-caller, Jacob Eason, and (ahem) ease him in to SEC play, and no better way to do that then with a stout running game and play-action passes. Jumper will need to show the same disciplined game he had against Florida with Darren Kirkland, Jr. likely still a couple of weeks away from action, as well as questions surrounding Jalen Reeves-Maybin's health. The Vols do not need a player who will simply get the defense lined up properly; they need someone who does that and makes plays - the kind of plays that makes people stop using the phrase "former walk-on." Another solid week from Colton Jumper likely means another Vols win and adds one more play-making linebacker to the fold once Kirkland returns.
Trey - Todd Kelly Jr.
With a still-flaky (if promising) young quarterback, Georgia is going to look to run Chubb and Michel as much as possible, and make the kid some breathing room. Strong safety TKJr. (along with nickel Rashaan Gaulden) is going to be crucial in both backstopping a depleted linebacking corps against Georgia's Dual Horsemen of The Triage, and in keeping Jim Chaney from getting any clever ideas about Staffordizing Jacob Eason. Contain the outside runs, shut down the intermediate passing game, and let this defensive line welcome Eason to the SEC.
Hunter Turner - Trevor Daniel
Tennessee dominated special teams play against Florida, with a close to 20 yard advantage in starting field position. That field position advantage helped mitigate the Vols' many first-half mistakes by consistently backing up the Gators close to their own goal line. With inexperienced but talented freshman quarterback Jacob Eason at the controls of the Georgia offense, a similar performance by Trevor Daniels and the rest of Tennessee's special teams unit will constrain the Bulldogs' playcalling and play into Bob Shoops' hands.
Chris Pendley - Alvin Kamara
Good: it seems like he's getting more touches. Bad: that's because he's the primary punt returner thanks to Cam Sutton's ankle. Good: Georgia's defense was busy being lit on fire at Oxford thanks to big plays. Bad: Outside of punt returns, Kamara hasn't gotten much of a chance to be explosive, only getting his number called three times against Florida. Good: ALVIN KAMARA IS PRETTY GOOD SO MAYBE GET HIM THE BALL MORE THAN THREE TIMES THIS WEEK, DEBORD.