After getting the crap kicked out of them for three quarters, the Vols get a nice break with the East Tennessee State University Buccaneers coming to town on Saturday.
Former Vols’ quarterback Randy Sanders is now ETSU’s head coach and the smaller school up the road is prepared for the challenge.
Can they pull off an upset? There is about a .00001% chance they can and if the Vols run their game plan, then that chance drops all the way to zero.
It’s time to serve up this week’s five keys to victory.
1. Let Jarrett Guarantano play ball
Coming off an impressive performance against West Virginia, it’s time to allow Guarantano’s confidence to build even more than it already has.
The Vols should let him sling it all over the field. They will need to break in a new center with the recent season-ending injury to Brandon Kennedy, so it’s important that Guarantano and most likely Ryan Johnson get as much time as possible to get acclimated to each other.
He showed very good timing and rhythm with his receivers last week and that should be another area to perfect before SEC play begins in two weeks.
This should be Guarantano’s best game as a Vol on Saturday.
2. Figure out the pass rush
The only player in the front seven that had a good game on Saturday was Shy Tuttle. Other than that, there was so much left to be desired.
Daniel Bituli, Jonathan Kongbo, Darrell Taylor, and Kyle Phillips were no where to be found on the field unless they were seen missing tackles or getting pancaked. This is alarming news for the Vols, considering that all four players were figured to be major contributors to the defense.
When applying Occam’s razor, it’s clear that Tennessee needs to keep the same crew out on the field that it had last week. If the aforementioned players struggle against an FCS team, then Jeremy Pruitt will know for sure that these guys won’t be able to cut it and that it’s time to start looking elsewhere for production.
Regardless of the opponent, the Vols aren’t going to win many games if they can’t get pressure with four-man fronts.
This weekend will be key in figuring out who can provide said pressure and if it can be done consistently.
3. Stop Quay Holmes
Arguably the Bucs’ best player, Holmes can do it all.
He racked up 134 total yards on 19 touches against Mars Hill and scored a touchdown en route to the team’s 28-7 victory.
Holmes redshirted in 2017, so there isn’t any tape of him other than last week’s game. It may be tough for the Vols to get a handle on him early, but this coaching staff has already shown they know how to make the necessary adjustments at the right time.
By forcing the Bucs to become one-dimensional, it will also help the Vols figure out the pass rush situation as well due to the lack of running game and increase in drop backs that will naturally come as the lead grows during the game.
4. Create turnovers
The Vols forced just one fumble against the Mountaineers. While they were able to recover the fumble, this defense has to find more ways to make plays.
The talent simply isn’t there at the moment for the unit to be a steady, consistent factor throughout games. As a below-average to average defense, they have to rely on turnovers.
There isn’t any type of formula that guarantees an increase in turnovers. Most of the time it relies on preparation and coaching that lends an edge to pre-snap reads and other determinations by the defense.
Fortunately for the Vols, they have a coaching staff that knows how to get that accomplished.
5. Communication in the secondary
It’s clear the Vols’ young secondary was torched last week. Even though they faced off against a Heisman-contender in Will Grier and an All-American in David Sills, it was rough for Vols fans everywhere to watch as the young unit ate crow pretty much all day long.
Most of the players in the defensive backfield should get better as the season goes on. What will be key for them, however, is the fact that they all need to make sure that they are on the same page at all times.
Communicating assignments and keys will help ease the growing pains. Pruitt knows this and his ability to correct the play in the secondary is one of the reasons he was hired in Knoxville.
The Vols get the perfect opportunity to correct last week’s mistakes against ETSU.