The Vols host the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday night in hopes of shocking the No. 3 team in the country and the world with an upset victory.
Some major changes will have to take place on Saturday if they even want to think about winning. The entire team will have to be better from top-to-bottom. One error at any moment of the game could trigger an avalanche of bad events (see Jauan Jennings’ tipped pass for an interception against Florida).
Most fans will be looking for a competitive game. That’s it.
What will you be looking for? Well, fortunately, you’ve come to the right place for an answer to that question.
1. A Fast Start
The Vols haven’t been known for their fast starts over the past few seasons. In fact, they’ve been downright terrible when playing against FBS opponents.
Since 2017, they’ve played in 24 games against FBS opponents. The Vols have averaged 3.3 first-quarter points and 5.9 second-half points per game during that stretch. They’ve been shutout five times in the first half and the most points scored in one half was 14, which was accomplished just four times.
Please, don’t jump after reading that.
It’s pretty obvious. They have to come out and make an impact early and often against the Bulldogs, or else it’s likely that we are looking at repeat performances from the past two seasons.
How they do so - or plan to do so - remains unknown, but getting out to a fast start will be crucial regardless of how it’s done.
2. Jarrett Guarantano’s “Leash”
Everyone who watched through the third quarter of the Florida game knows what happened to Guarantano. But just in case you changed the channel at halftime (which I don’t blame you for, at all) or just in case you’ve been off the grid for the past week, I’d be amiss to not mention that he was benched in favor of Brian Maurer.
Then, Pruitt brought Guarantano back in after several ineffective Maurer-led drives. That led to more speculation as to what Pruitt was really trying to do with Guarantano. Was he trying to send a message? Was he really fed up with Guarantano and the decision just backfired?
Regardless of the decision, what if Guarantano struggles against Georgia? Will Pruitt decide to run with Maurer again - maybe even JT Shrout, this time - or will he stick with Guarantano? What would even warrant pulling Guarantano again?
Pruitt was tight-lipped with the media in regards to his plan for Georgia. He did, however, touch on the need for Guarantano to be better in actual game situations.
“(Guarantano) had a really good practice last week,” Pruitt said. “That’s not unusual — he’s practiced really well in spring and fall camp. I think the big thing with Jarrett is taking it to the game, being consistent and creating the right habits. That’s something that he’s got to improve on. Taking care of the football is the number one goal.”
It will be interesting to see how this plays out on Saturday - and the rest of the season, as well.
3. Tennessee’s Defensive Line vs. Georgia’s Offensive Line
Georgia has a stout offensive line. All five players will likely play on Sunday when it’s all said and done.
On the other hand, Tennessee’s defensive line is, well, not very good.
Granted, the defensive line isn’t supposed to make many impact plays in Pruitt’s defensive system, but the position group is certainly responsible for maintaining gap integrity, eating up blocks, and providing pressure.
So far, they haven’t been very good at any of that, but how do you get better against an offensive line that’s as good as Georgia’s?
It all starts up front and for the Vols to even begin to think they have a shot at winning this game, this area will need to improve quickly.