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Senior pass rusher Deandre Johnson has breakout performance against South Carolina

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The Vols found an answer to a key question.

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - Indiana v Tennessee Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

One big question entering the 2020 season was Tennessee’s pass rush — a question that the Volunteers actually answered pretty convincingly in the opening win against South Carolina. There were a couple of guys that stood out, but none more than Deandre Johnson.

The 6-3, 245 pound senior outside linebacker had yet to make an impact during his time in Knoxville, but that all changed on Saturday night. Johnson came away with 2.5 sacks on the night, six tackles and a forced fumble.

In a season where Tennessee has to replace Darrell Taylor, they just might have found their answer during the first week of the season.

“Deandre over the last, really the last year, you really see a young man that is maturing,” Jeremy Pruitt said after the victory. “Not only on the field, but off the field. He wanted to come back and move back into the dorm for his last year. It’s his third year in the system, so he knows what to do, he’s a smart guy.”

Johnson matched his 2019 sack numbers in just one game last night. He was a wrecking ball off of the edge, consistently able to turn the corner and collapse the pocket. It was a surprise to most, considering his lack of production to this point in his career.

“He’s a competitor,” Pruitt continued. “He plays with confidence. I don’t know what kind of numbers he had tonight but it seemed like he was in on a lot of plays. You know, he’s got a lot of really good football ahead of him.”

Kivon Bennett made a few splashes, while Tyler Baron flashed a few times. LaTrell Bumphus also got some time on the edge in passing situations. But Johnson was the clear-cut star.

On a night where the Tennessee secondary was dealing with the absence of Shawn Shamburger and a limited Jaylen McCollough, Johnson’s efforts might have saved the game for the Volunteers. This front was able to do just enough to slow down Collin Hill and Shi Smith, which the Tennessee secondary didn’t really have an answer for.

Next up for Johnson? Consistency. Go do it again. It’s only going to get tougher for him after putting that effort on tape, however. You can expect double teams to shift his way as early as next week, but that’s a good thing.

Tennessee badly needed an alpha on the edge and it sure seems like they’ve found one.