Tennessee will face UTEP this weekend in the Vols’ final pre-SEC tuneup.
A lot of Tennessee’s preparation is focused on its own roster. The Vols are still trying to establish their identity under first-year coach Jeremy Pruitt. And an opponent like UTEP should be the perfect kind of foe for Tennessee to work out some of its issues.
This is not a very interesting game on the surface. The Vols are 31-point favorites against UTEP, which hasn’t won a game since the final week of the 2016 season. The 0-2 Miners lost their opening games to Northern Arizona and UNLV by a combined 48 points.
Tennessee (1-1) is far from where it wants to be among the elite teams in the SEC, but the Vols are coming off a 59-3 win over East Tennessee State and have a clear talent advantage over UTEP.
So what should you know about Tennessee’s plan entering this game, which has an over/under set at 47.5? Let’s take a look before making a decision on the best way to bet it.
More Big Passing Plays
Last week, Tennessee took a few shots down the field with both quarterbacks Jarrett Guarantano and backup Keller Chryst.
Tennessee’s down-field passing was nonexistent in the opener against West Virginia. The Vols’ coaches know that will need to change if they’re going to score points in the SEC.
Expect Guarantano to look deep for two of his favorite targets, Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer. Both had receptions of 50-plus yards last week.
Chryst will do the same when he enters the game. Tennessee shouldn’t slow down when Chryst plays; he needs the reps running the offense after he transferred to Tennessee from Stanford in June.
Tennessee’s attempt to attack UTEP’s defense will be one of its first priorities. Another focus will be on the defensive side.
Applying More Pressure
Tennessee has struggled to get to the opposing quarterback in the first two games of the season.
Despite the lack of pressure last week against ETSU, Tennessee forced three turnovers. One interception was returned for a touchdown and another set up an easy score for the Vols’ offense.
“It’s been an emphasis from our staff,” said linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr., who scored Tennessee’s defensive touchdown last week.
Pruitt will once again challenge his team to make plays on defense and special teams against UTEP, which turned the ball over three times in each of its first two games.
Tennessee will likely rotate a good number of players in the front seven to keep them fresh and see who can be disruptive.
The Vols will have to be careful with UTEP quarterback Kai Locksley, who has rushed for 169 yards in two games.
Tennessee’s defense hasn’t faced a quarterback with the running skills of Locksley, who will try to find defenders out of position.
Pruitt knows his defense still has a lot to prove. But…
Offensive Line Has a Lot to Prove
This is still the biggest question mark on Tennessee’s team, as the Vols have struggled to establish a consistent rushing attack in the first two games.
Tennessee will try to get its runners going early, and the return of Ty Chandler, the Vols’ best big-play threat out of the backfield, gives the offense another weapon.
Tennessee’s offensive line should be motivated after hearing so much criticism during the first two weeks of the season. If the Vols can’t dominate up front in this game, when will they?
Don’t be surprised if Tennessee gets off to a slow start, especially with a noon kickoff. But the Vols should eventually be able to run on UTEP considering the Miners have allowed a combined 521 rushing yards and 5.66 per carry (119th of 130 FBS teams) in their first two games.
Bet to Watch
UTEP is 99th in the nation in total defense, and it’s about to face its toughest test of the season. The Vols’ offense should be able to take advantage.
Bill Connelly’s S&P+ projections have Tennessee scoring 53 points against UTEP after putting 59 on the scoreboard last week. If we follow the money — a slight majority of bets are on the under, but 68% of dollars wagered are on the over — the smart side points to the points.
That looks like the right play. Take over 47.5 between Tennessee and UTEP.