The Monday 3-2-1
Monday means the 3-2-1. It’s three observations, two questions and a prediction about the Vols who after a feel good shutout victory jumps into SEC play Saturday at Florida.
1. Daniel Bituli’s return is important — Head coach Jeremy Pruitt down played Bituli’s return from the standpoint of helping guys line up. But any observers of the game saw Bituli physically moving defensive linemen and making checks to the linebackers and the secondary. It was important to get him a few reps on Saturday in the win and it’s a must for him to stay healthy moving forward.
2. Callaway needs more touches — Jauan Jennings is the Vols’ best competitor. He’s a guy who in the most critical situations you get the ball to, but Callaway has to be a bigger part of things for this offense. He’s Tennessee’s biggest big play threat. Through three games, Callaway has 9 catches for 127 yards. Going into the Chattanooga game, Callaway was averaging 9.8 yards a catch. Against the Mocs he averaged right at 30 yards a catch. Callaway needs more touches and the touches need to be down the field.
3. Run defense struggles will continue — This is no revelation here, but over the next few weeks the opponents are going to be more physical and better in the ground game. Florida isn’t great, but they are better than Chattanooga, Georgia State and BYU. In three games, Tennessee has given up 471 yards in 12 quarters. That’s an average of 157 yards a game on the ground. Everyone knew this element of the defense was going to be a struggle. The challenges are only going to get harder. Pruitt and his staff are going to have to be creative in their schemes to try and mask the shortcomings in their defensive front.
1. Can the WR’s win against man coverage?
It’s the age old question in the Tennessee-Florida match up. For well over a decade we have been talking about whether or not Tennessee can win against man coverage. One of the issues the Vols have had regardless of who the head coach has been is beating press coverage by the Gators’ secondary. A year ago, they throttled Guarantano. Guarantano was sacked twice, knocked down repeatedly, threw two interceptions and completed 38% of his throws. Guarantano must play better and he needs help from the wide receivers against a secondary that will challenge them physically.
2. Can the Vols win on first down?
That question goes for both the offense and the defense. Tennessee is converting just 48% of their third downs on the year. No question some of that has been failures on third and short, but they have also been in too many third and longs because of failure to win on first down. Of the Vols’ 10 third downs, five of them were 3rd and 6 or longer. Tennessee must avoid being in third and long.
Defensively, Pruitt’s unit must be better on first down. In week one, Georgia State averaged nearly 5 yards a first down snap. Saturday against Chattanooga, the Mocs averaged 3.6 yards on first down. Chattanooga had 6 first down plays of 5 yards or more. Make no mistake, offenses are going to have some first down success but Tennessee’s defense must not let that be sustained success if they want to get off the field on third down. Tennessee’s defense can’t afford to let the Gators live in third and short.
Tennessee’s tight ends are the most important offensive personnel this week
Give Austin Pope a ton of credit. He showed a lot of toughness on Saturday battling through an arm injury. It’s important that he stay healthy. Pope and Wood-Anderson are the two tight ends that Jim Chaney trusts at this point.
They have been huge in Tennessee’s rushing attacks the last two weeks. The Vols have 437 yards rushing the last 8 quarters averaging 5 yards a rush. Tennessee won’t do that in SEC play, but they have to run it somewhat effectively to stay ahead of the sticks and to not allow the Gator defense to pin their ears back and come after Guarantano.
But the tight ends aren’t just important in the run game. They are also huge in the passing game and it has nothing to do with catching the football.
Pope has one catch on the season. Wood-Anderson has five. The duo had one on Saturday. But their pass catching skills particularly for Pope aren’t key for Saturday. The key is the ability to protect Guarantano in the passing game.
Florida had 10 sacks in week one. The only had one at Kentucky as the Wildcats’ offensive line handled the line of scrimmage.
If Tennessee is going to pull off the upset, they have to be able to run the football which means they will have to get wide some and they have to protect Guarantano from Florida’s edge pressure which will require help from the tight ends for the offensive tackles.