The opening act of the Jeremy Pruitt era at Tennessee... did not go well. The Vols were beaten 40-14 by what appears to be a pretty good football team in the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Here’s what stood out.
Offensive line struggles early
For as much as we heard about the progress of Tennessee’s offensive line, we didn’t see much consistency today. It was a brutal start for the line, which broke down multiple times to start the game and created several negative plays. West Virginia was sitting on the run and Tennessee didn’t have much they could do about it early on.
As the game went, the offensive line seemed to settle in. Tim Jordan found plenty of space, taking 20 carries and going for 118 yards on the day. By then, it was too late.
Confident and improved Guarantano
The numbers weren’t eye-popping (19-25 for 176 and a TD) by any means, but I thought Jarrett Guarantano played his best game as a Vol. You saw a confident passer in the pocket, who understood what he was seeing and threw with conviction. It was encouraging to see Guarantano get the ball out on time and on the money.
Tennessee’s offense went just 5/14 on third down, which was a big factor in determining this one. The Vols couldn’t string drives together, but I saw positive signs out of the quarterback position.
This was the matchup I highlighted earlier in the week, and sure enough — it got exposed. I understand that there aren’t many rational minds out there following a loss, but just remember this — Tennessee started three true freshmen in the secondary against a couple of All-Americans on the other side of the ball.
I thought it was interesting that Jeremy Pruitt elected to trust his guys in press man coverage without much help over the top. Bryce Thompson and Trevon Flowers gave up big plays today, but that’s to be expected considering it was their first taste of college football.
The frustration is understandable, but it’s important to note the inexperience. This unit will get better as the season rolls along.
Zero pass rush
Easily the most concerning area of the game for me — Tennessee got zero pass rush tonight, outside of a couple of plays. We knew that the Vols didn’t have any established pass rushers heading into this one, but the Vols got nothing done on the defensive line. A young secondary plus a defensive front that can’t generate a pass rush is a recipe for disaster. Expect plenty of blitzes this season from the Vols.
I’ll end it on a positive note. Tim Jordan looked like a guy ready to carry the load. He ran hard and angry, taking a page from John Kelly. Jordan’s 118 yards were the offensive highlight of the day for Tennessee.
It should be noted that Ty Chandler left the game with an injury early in the first half, but Jordan looked more than capable of being a feature guy going forward.