Coming off a very disappointing loss, the Vols are looking to get things back on track as they host the Charlotte 49ers this weekend.
The 49ers, while members of Conference USA, should not be taken too lightly. They currently sit at seventh in their conference standings, but they have won two of the last three games.
What does Tennessee need to do in order to ensure a win? Let’s take a look.
1. Play a clean game
Tennessee has been very good at limiting turnovers on offense this season, but they haven’t been so hot at avoiding penalties. Last week hit a head with six pre-snap penalties and it’s safe to say they affected the outcome of the game.
Charlotte beat the Southern Miss Golden Eagles last week 20-17 despite getting outproduced 426-224 in total yardage. The Golden Eagles turned the ball over three times, marking the difference in the game.
Tennessee is obviously the superior team when it comes to athletic talent. If they are able to avoid mistakes at any level, then this will be a cakewalk.
On the other hand, if the Vols make their fair share of mistakes, then this game could turn into a closer contest than the fans and players would like.
2. Shut down Benny LeMay
LeMay is having a hell of a season. He leads the team with 745 rushing yards - good for 27th in the country - and five touchdowns. His 5.3 yards per clip has him sitting at 13th in the country for running backs with at least 141 carries.
In four wins LeMay has averaged 107.5 yards on the ground. The 49ers also average right around 187 rush yards per game when they win. In four losses, LeMay has averaged just around 79 yards and the team puts up right around 99 yards.
The crazy thing is that even when the 49ers don’t win, LeMay still averages about 5.5 yards per carry. There is no doubt that he is the engine for the offense. Shutting him down will be the main priority for the Vols.
The good news is that the 49ers have lost every single one of their road games. If this trend continues for the visiting team, then the Vols should have plenty of success stopping LeMay and the ground game on Saturday.
3. Keep Guarantano healthy
This is getting pretty redundant, but the importance of Guarantano’s health is paramount. Sure, the young quarterback is still developing, but he is the best option that the Vols currently have at the position. If he were to go down it could dramatically change this offense.
Guarantano continued to take hit after hit against the Gamecocks and it looked like the punishment finally started to wear on him in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee should handle this game to the point where he doesn’t have to play a full game. On the other hand, if he is still taking snaps into the fourth quarter then this offensive line must keep him upright.
His health is also key for the big picture. If the Vols still want to get to a bowl game, then they will need all of their starters healthy - beginning with Guarantano.
4. Find a pass rush
Speaking of the big picture, if the Vols want to win anymore SEC games, finding a pass rush somewhere on this roster is an absolute must.
This week provides the perfect opportunity to get this plan in action. Charlotte is one of the worst teams in the country when it comes to giving up sacks. They allow close to three per game, with a season-high five allowed against the UAB Blazers.
Tennessee’s fatal flaw last week was all the time they gave to Jake Bentley. The defense just couldn’t get any stops as the game went on and most of that was due to non-existent pressure.
Chris Reynolds, Charlotte’s quarterback, is nowhere near Bentley’s level. He is a freshman who’s stat line reminds you a lot of Guarantano’s stats. He is an effective player, but more of a game manager at the moment that relies on the team around him to be successful.
Expect Tennessee to have some packages dialed up this weekend in order to try and find some life on the defensive line.