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Tennessee vs. West Virginia key matchup: Young corners against an explosive passing attack

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Can Alontae and Bryce hang tough right out of the gate?

NCAA Football: Texas Tech at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The West Virginia Mountaineers return a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback. They return a 1,000 yard receiver in addition to 2017’s leader in receiving touchdowns. Tennessee’s plan to slow that potent offense down?

A couple of true freshmen.

Cornerbacks Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson were listed in bold on Tennessee’s initial two-deep depth chart, alongside of sophomore Baylen Buchanan. Regardless of who gets the “start,” both players are going to see the field quite a bit against one of the best passing offenses in the country.

Each player was a four-star recruit in the 2018 class. Taylor signed with many thinking he would play receiver, but roster needs forced him to flip to the defensive side of the ball. Pruitt tossed Taylor into the fire, starting him in the spring game with the second team.

Taylor was a late addition to the 2018 class, so his learning curve is even steeper. Clearly both have made enough of an impression on the defensive staff to earn the nod on Saturday, despite what should be some stiff competition.

“I think our guys go up against some pretty good receivers every day,” Pruitt said. “I think these guys are competitive — they’re still learning the position.”

Figuring things out on the fly will be interesting with Will Grier, David Sills and Gary Jennings Jr. on the other side of the line of scrimmage. But Jeremy Pruitt doesn’t sound concerned.

“They don’t have a whole lot of experience playing the position. All across the country this week there will be guys playing something for the first time in college football,” Pruitt said. “For me, I look at it as an opportunity. It’s why they came to the University of Tennessee. They want to play in big games like this on the biggest stage. If you’re made the right way and it’s what they want to do, then they’ll be ready for it.”