The Monday 3-2-1
Monday means the 3-2-1. It’s three observations, two questions and a prediction about the Vols who earned their four win of the season and prep for a big trip to Kentucky.
1. Staff believes Guarantano gives them the best chance — Admittedly, Jeremy Pruitt’s reasoning was confusing as for why he didn’t start Guarantano but ended up for the second straight week playing him the bulk of the game. The reality is that this staff seems to feel that despite the broken hand, Guarantano gives them their best shot at getting 6 wins and to a bowl game.
“I thought it gave us the best chance to win,” Pruitt said of his quarterback plan. “One guy had surgery on Sunday. It is cold out there, and he has a cast on his hand. First time getting out there, you see him in warm ups and he practiced most of the week, but the ball was pretty slick there the way the air was tonight. If J.T. (Shrout) doesn’t run across the field or throw across his body, back over there when we were in field goal range, he might have kept playing. There are some mistakes as the quarterback that you can’t make. You might miss a throw. You might not check the ball to the proper side. You can’t let go of the football in the red zone. We can’t make those mistakes.”
Guarantano threw an interception in the redzone to end the half but played the bulk of the second half in a game where he was beat up physically.
Brian Maurer didn’t play for the second straight week. Pruitt said that Maurer had not taken enough reps this week to get ready.
What does Saturdays’s quarterback plan look like? No one knows, but it would appear it will involve quarterback X and Guarantano playing the bulk of the game in “relief”.
2. Tracy Rocker’s unit has grown the most of any unit on the team —16 is the number. That’s the number of sacks the Vols have since the first open date (5 games). An impressive number for Tennessee’s defense. The Vols have also been really good against the run the last 8 quarters. Tennessee’s defense in the last two games is giving up 2.5 yards a carry. The Vols defensive front will certainly be tested Saturday night in Lexington against a Kentucky run game that is averaging 201 yards per outing.
3. Tennessee’s offensive line play must get back on track — I thought UAB’s defense would be salty and they were. The Blazers are pretty good on the defensive front. The Vols tackles struggled mightily against the Blazer defensive end Jordan Smith who had 4 tackles, a sack, another tackle for loss and two quarterbacks hurries (likely was more than that). The Vols tackles could not keep Smith in front of them off the edge. In the interior, Tony Fair worked over Brandon Kennedy with six tackles including two for loss. All might not been against Kennedy but the bulk of them were. The offensive front must get healthy and get back in the right direction.
“We kind of played behind the chains and had too many negative plays,” Pruitt said. “You run for six yards and the next one is minus three where you throw an incomplete pass and didn’t protect very well at all.”
Not counting sacks the Vol running backs lost 11 yards rushing. They only lost 5 yards total against Alabama and South Carolina combined.
1. Can the Vols find their juice?
Tennessee has plenty to play for and so does Kentucky. The Wildcats are coming off an open date while Tennessee is playing their sixth straight game. The Vols are bruised and battered after the tough grind of October.
So can the Vols match the energy level of a Kentucky team that’s still eyeing 8 wins and should be rejuvenated. Pruitt has done a nice job managing his team during the week on the practice field. How does he manage them week? How much contact to you take? Do you cut your overall practice time down? Some interesting in week decisions that could have an impact in a big opportunity game in Lexington.
Tennessee had plenty of energy against UAB. One would expect them to have it Saturday night in Lexington given what's in front of them. But playing six weeks in a row takes it's toll on a team short on depth.
2. What’s the answer in the red zone ?
Jim Chaney has done good things with this offense. He’s won games with four different starting quarterbacks. He’s hasn’t played one quarterback for a full game since the Vols lost to BYU in week two. Don’t expect him to play just one on Saturday night.
While Chaney’s offense has grown and he has adjusted to ever changing personnel, they have been flat out bad in the red zone. Tennessee has only scored touchdowns on 14 of 32 red zone trips. That’s just a really bad number. Throw in that 8 red zone trips have resulted in no points and the stat is even worse.
What’s Chaney’s answer for the red zone woes? Obviously he needs better decision making at the quarterback position, but he has to limit some of those decisions as well. Is Chaney’s decision more fades if he's going to throw the ball? We haven't really seen that play since week one. Is it more Crouch in the jumbo and try to run it? Is it more Jauan Jennings in the wildcat? I don’t know the answer, but I know it’s pretty amazing Tennessee is talking bowl game possibilities having won 3 of their last 5 despite just scoring 6 touchdowns in their last 18 red zone trips.
Saturday night will be a slugfest
Kentucky’s defense has been pretty good all year. The ‘Cats defense has only given up four touchdown passes all season. Kentucky hasn’t give up 30 points in a game this season. Kentucky is giving up 174 yards a game on the ground and are giving up 5 yards a carry so they have had some issues stopping the run.
Tennessee’s run game has improved but is by no means a juggernaut. The Vols have to be able to run the ball Saturday night in Lexington.
The Wildcats don’t give up many cheap points, which is why this game feels like it’s going to be a low scoring slugfest.
Tennessee must be better in the red zone and take advantage of the scoring options they get.
Defensively, Derrick Ansley’s unit will have to be physical in defending a Kentucky offense that basically lines up and says here we come. A year ago the Vols were and pulled off the upset.
Play that way this week, and Tennessee will get win #5.