There may not be a whole lot of intrigue on the scoreboard on Saturday at Neyland Stadium, but there’s still plenty to watch for as the Vols continue to prep for SEC play. Here are four things that I’ll be watching for as Tennessee takes on UTEP.
Running back rotation: How does Ty Chandler fit into the picture?
Chandler “got his bell rung” according to Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt against West Virginia. The true sophomore was held out of last week’s game against ETSU, opening the door for freshman Jeremy Banks. Banks didn’t disappoint and looked plenty ready to be a part of this running back rotation.
Add Banks into the mix with Tim Jordan, Madre London and now a returning Ty Chandler — now you feel pretty confident in the stable of backs in Knoxville. The interesting part is going to be watching how the staff divides up the carries. Chandler figures to at least get the passing down work. We’ll see how much he handles elsewhere against UTEP.
Jauan Jennings getting close to a full-go?
Through two games, Jennings has just three catches. But there’s a reasonable explanation for that. Pruitt and his staff has had him on a pitch count of sorts, trying to make sure Jennings is ready to roll for the rest of the season.
“Since I’ve been here, Jauan has done everything we asked him to do,” Pruitt said on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, for him he’s been hurt most of the time. He really just got cleared going into fall camp. We had to monitor his reps, so that hurt his development as a wide receiver. He hadn’t done it in over a year. He’s getting back into it.”
Josh Palmer has been playing over Jennings for the most part and taking advantage of his opportunities. We saw Jordan Murphy make a big play down the sideline last week as well. Tennessee has depth at the wide receiver position — it may be the most talented position on the roster. It’s an interesting situation, considering the Vols want to primarily be a power run team.
As for Jennings, expect to see him more and more as SEC play ramps up.
“The guy is a really good competitor,” Pruitt said. “As the season goes there will be opportunities for him. He’ll create them by the way he practices through the week. That will take care of itself.”
Can Pruitt create any kind of pressure?
To be clear, this is far from being Jeremy Pruitt’s fault. He inherited a roster that didn’t have a proven pass rusher on it, now he’s tasked with trying to develop those guys, along with some new faces that he’s already brought on.
The early returns on that task? Well, the Vols have two sacks in two games, each coming from the interior. There isn’t an edge presence on this team and that’s shaping up to be a huge problem going forward.
“We still don’t get much pressure,” Pruitt said after the ETSU game. “We’ve got to continue to develop that. We’ve got some guys who actually have some ability to do it, but they’ve got to have an understanding about get-off, about what kind of pass move they’re going to do. The first thing needs to be speed. We’ve got a long ways to go in that regard.”
So what do you do if you don’t have talent ready to get after the passer? To me, you blitz. It’s the only option. This young secondary needs some help and that’s the only way to deliver it. The defense failed to get pressure on ETSU and they’ve got one more chance against a pretty bad UTEP team to figure it out before Florida comes to town.
It’s probably unrealistic to expect them to figure it out at this point, but I’m expecting plenty of different blitzing looks to compensate.
New faces emerging
Games like these are great for rotating guys in and seeing how they react on the big stage. Last week we saw Jeremy Banks run hard and establish himself as a threat for more playing time. Last Chance U star Emmit Gooden really stood out as a disrupter on the defensive interior. Jordan Murphy backed up his positive practice reports with a 50 yard touchdown from Keller Chryst.
Who will it be this week?