The Tennessee Volunteers split their road games at Auburn and South Carolina this year, losing narrowly in their loss. If you had told that to Tennessee fans before the start of the season, they would have been really excited. Yet, losing in Columbia on Saturday felt like a letdown.
By Matt Zemek
This is a perfect weekend to play a tomato can from a smaller-tier conference, because the Vols will probably feel depressed about their inability to win against South Carolina. The same amount of energy will not exist for all 12 games in a season. This is a safe landing spot for the Vols, and a time when the focus is to regroup for upcoming big games against Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt.
What the Vols achieve against Charlotte has nothing to do with the 49ers themselves. Charlotte is peripheral to this game. What matters is preparing to play Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt.
1 – GUARANTANO GETTING ON TRACK
The Jarrett Guarantano experience is a roller-coaster right now. That is not surprising, but it remains that getting Guarantano to play well – building confidence heading into the 2019 season – is the top priority for Jeremy Pruitt.
When I say that Guarantano is the biggest key for UT heading into 2019, that statement should not be perceived as a claim that Guarantano is the biggest PROBLEM. No, that’s not the worst problem the Vols face. It is merely the most urgent priority. If you studied and followed the Vols under Derek Dooley and Butch Jones, you know that the quarterback position was not coached or managed well. Tennessee needs to demonstrate that it can coach and develop its quarterbacks to the point that they can demonstrate complete command of situations and thereby be ready to answer the bell in fourth quarters. Guarantano and the Tennessee offense did not answer the bell in the fourth quarter against South Carolina. Guarantano completed a high percentage of passes and did not throw an interception, but when the game was on the line, he couldn’t deliver the goods.
Against Charlotte, Guarantano needs to hit more deep passes. His high completion percentage (just under 70) against South Carolina coexisted with the fact that he averaged under eight yards per completion. Against Kentucky in particular, Tennessee will need chunk plays. This must become a game in which UT shows it can move the ball down the field in large segments, not with a dink-and-dunk game.
2 – REDSHIRT RULE IN FOCUS
The four-game redshirt rule is a new part of the college football landscape this year. It relieves coaches from the burden of having to completely hold out players from playing in order to preserve their redshirt. Now, players can play up to four games and still preserve redshirt status for the next season. This is a game to give players much-needed work for the coming season. It’s a time when Pruitt needs to push the button in the cases of a few players who need snaps.
3 – LINING UP A PLAN
The upcoming Kentucky game will demand a credible performance from Tennessee’s offensive line, and it will also be a slugfest which will test the strength and depth of this offensive line group. Managing snaps and exploring combinations will be important for the Vols against Charlotte.