All through the spring and summer, we’ve heard the hype on this Tennessee offensive line. From the worst positional group on the roster two years ago to now perhaps the best, this group was billed as the heartbeat of the team.
Understandably so too, with four former five-star prospects set to start on the offensive line this season for the Volunteers. On Saturday, we saw a glimpse of just how good they could be. Tennessee ran for 232 yards — Eric Gray for 105 yards, Ty Chandler for 90 and Jabari Small for 27. Jarrett Guarantano also scored two rushing touchdowns.
“Well, we ran the ball 51 times,” Jeremy Pruitt said after the game. “So the first part of being good in the run game is you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to say that, hey, we want to establish the run game. I felt like we did that a little bit today.”
The Volunteers stuck with it from start to finish, controlling the game and the line of scrimmage. Cade Mays started the game at right tackle, but also spent time at right guard. That was by design, as Tennessee has set up a rotation of sorts on the offensive front.
For the time being, that’s going to be how Will Friend and Jeremy Pruitt attack things up front.
“We’ve got guys that have been quarantined for multiple weeks,” Pruitt said. “So they’re not really in shape to play an entire game. That’s the first thing. So to do that, we’ve got to create a rotation. We also feel like we have a lot of guys that are deserving to play. And we’ve got competition, so we want to figure out kind of what’s the best lineup. The circumstances that we’re in right now, with this pandemic, you may not always have your complete team. So you better be able to mix and match and have an answer.”
Rotating the entire offensive line is a unique approach, but it’s a continuation of what Tennessee did last season. Wanya Morris, Darnell Wright, Cade Mays, Brandon Kennedy, Trey Smith, Jerome Carvin, K’Rojhn Calbert, Javontez Spraggins and Jahmir Johnson have earned playing time, and they’re all getting it.
That’s going to keep Tennessee fresh while also preparing them for the worst. We’ll see how things change as more guys get into football shape, particularly in the case of Mays.