A big thanks to Terry Lambert over at RockyTopTalk.com for his very in-depth answers. With Alabama looking to extend their win streak over a reeling Tennessee team this weekend, how confident are the fans up in Knoxville?
1) It’s really been a tale of two halves so far this season for Tennessee. Everything looked great against South Carolina and Missouri, but then fell apart against Georgia and Kentucky. Obviously the latter two teams have much better defenses than the first two. Was that simple answer the main culprit for regression here? If not, what is the issue for Tennessee the last couple of weeks?
That likely has a lot to do with it, but the main issue has been turnovers. Tennessee now has seven in the last three halves of football, which obviously is going to prohibit you from beating just about anyone in the country. Obviously, Jarrett Guarantano isn’t playing at a very high level, but more on that below. The offensive line has been a letdown to this point in the season too. Four five-star prospects start for Tennessee, yet Georgia absolutely manhandled the Vols up front. While Guarantano is a separate issue, this offensive line isn’t winning at the line of scrimmage right now. Tennessee wants to run the ball and control the clock — they’ve been okay in the run game, but critical mistakes have doomed their efforts over the last two weeks.
2) What are the chances we see a QB other than Jarrett Guarantano? (and are Tennessee fans hoping this will happen?)
Tennessee fans are done with Jarrett Guarantano — and how can you blame them? As a fifth-year senior, Guarantano has been through it all at Tennessee, but at a certain point enough is enough. Still though, Pruitt seems adamant that he’s Tennessee’s best chance to win games. If that’s true, and it may be, that’s totally unacceptable in year three. Fans want Harrison Bailey, the highly-ranked true freshman, to take over as soon as possible. However, the COVID mess kept him from getting work in this spring and he was forced to quarantine in fall camp. Brian Maurer, who Alabama saw last year, has been dealing with a hamstring issue. So Tennessee keeps being forced back to Guarantano. Maybe Pruitt pulls a surprise on Saturday, but I’m guessing we see Guarantano one more time ahead of Tennessee’s bye week.
3)Tennessee’s defense has been fairly solid so far this season, but Jeremy Pruitt just fired his DL coach. Was that strictly for performance reasons, or was there something else there?
Yeah, not a lot of information on this one. What we do know is that Pruitt was very critical of his defensive line’s progress in camp this season, but it seems odd to pull the plug so early. You almost have to assume that something happened behind the scenes there. It’s not exactly a good look.
4) Someone makes a huge play against Alabama’s defense in the 3rd quarter. Who is it?
Josh Palmer, Tennessee’s top receiver. Palmer basically put the offense on his back in the first half against Georgia, pushing Tennessee to a halftime lead by making big plays down the field. He’s outstanding in contested moments, kind of filling the shoes of Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway from last year’s team. Jim Chaney honestly needs to manufacture more opportunities for him, especially going up against a team in Alabama that is sure to put up plenty of points.
5) Who are the three most impactful defenders on Tennessee’s team?
Henry To’o To’o: Y’all probably remember that name. He committed to Tennessee over Alabama a couple of years back and has been the best defender on the team pretty much ever since. He’s a huge difference maker at middle linebacker and playing at a ridiculously high level right now.
Deandre Johnson: Tennessee badly needed a pass rusher to emerge and Johnson has. He ended up with 2.5 sacks against South Carolina in the opener and could impact Alabama’s deep passing game on Saturday.
Bryce Thompson: He’s Tennessee’s best cornerback, but hasn’t faced a test like the one he’ll see on Saturday. Now a junior in his third year in the system, I’m interested to see if he can impact this game against Alabama’s vertical attack.
6) Give us one offensive and one defensive player who aren’t household names but could come up with an important play or two.
True freshman receiver Jalin Hyatt has been worked into spots of this Tennessee offense early on. He’s got legitimate 4.3 speed, which brings something different to the table. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tennessee get down in this one and start firing away to he and Palmer.
Shawn Shamburger mans Tennessee’s nickel spot and is heavily involved with their blitz packages. He’s created several big plays in the past and could be the man to do so again.
7) What’s your game prediction?
When the schedule came out, this had a real trap game feel to it. But that was before, when we were all believing Tennessee’s upgraded talent could somewhat overcome the deficiencies at quarterback. The Vols just don’t have enough firepower to keep up, it’s as simple as that.
Alabama 45, Tennessee 17
8) Finally, what are your overall thoughts on how the rest of Tennessee’s season will play out and how is the fanbase feeling about Jeremy Pruitt?
I’m not quite to the sky-is-falling point. We saw Jeremy Pruitt rebound last year and this roster is good enough to do it again. But there are massive issues at the quarterback position and they’re eventually going to have to go elsewhere to solve them. Thing is, they don’t need a difference maker at the position. They just need someone that won’t break their back. As much good as Pruitt has done to this point, it could all be undone if they don’t figure out the quarterback spot soon.
Pruitt lost a lot of steam last weekend with the fanbase. We’ve seen several new lows over the last decade, but getting blown out by Kentucky is a new one even for us. How he gets his team to respond coming out of next week’s bye is going to tell us quite a bit about his program.
Again, big thank to Terry Lambert for talking here. Especially with my responses to him being infrequent all week long due to my real life job.
If you want to see the other half of our Q&A where I gush about Alabama’s offensive line, here’s the link.