Tennessee is still trying to figure out how many players it can rely on this season, even after a 59-3 rout of East Tennessee State on Saturday.
Tennessee’s uncertainty with its personnel isn’t too surprising. The Vols have a first-year head coach in Jeremy Pruitt and a roster that has been overhauled by the new staff, which has been documented here at The Action Network.
It’s difficult to tell exactly which players will be on the field at times because Tennessee’s coaching staff is still trying to figure that out.
The question is — are there enough reliable pieces to handle a grueling SEC schedule that includes consecutive games against Florida, Georgia, Auburn and Alabama? Or will it be worn down by November?
It applies almost across the board, at every position group.
When asked about the offensive line Monday, Pruitt said, “You might as well play multiple guys to keep them fresh.”
At running back, Tennessee could rely on senior Madre London, sophomore Tim Jordan or true freshman Jeremy Banks, another newcomer who has impressed Tennessee’s coaches.
Part of the plan is to build depth. The main goal for Tennessee’s coaching staff is to find players it can trust before SEC play begins when the Vols host Florida on Sept. 22.
But Tennessee’s offensive line is the biggest concern after another lackluster performance against ETSU.
The Buccaneers ended the first quarter Saturday with zero rushing yards, which was still better than Tennessee’s -1 yards on the ground after one quarter.
Tennessee finished the game averaging only 4.3 yards per carry against ETSU. If the Vols struggle to run the ball against an FCS opponent, what will happen when Tennessee has to face SEC teams?
The Vols haven’t been able to establish depth early in the season. That will need to change when Tennessee faces a brutal SEC schedule that includes six teams in the top 30 of the Action Network’s power ratings.
That makes this week even more important, as Tennessee enters what is essentially an extended preseason game against UTEP, the lowest-rated FBS team in the country.
The conversation around Tennessee likely won’t change after Saturday. We’ll still be asking questions about the Vols’ different lineups and the number of players Tennessee can rely on.
One spot on Tennessee’s roster appears to be solidified, as Jarrett Guarantano has established himself as the team’s starting quarterback. But he still has to prove he can help create explosive plays within the offense to make up for defensive deficiencies.
Tennessee’s defensive front is filled with veterans who have yet to produce. The Vols recorded one sack against ETSU. The week before, Mars Hill — that’s Division II Mars Hill — sacked ETSU’s quarterback four times.
The inability to block on offense or get pressure on defense is not a good combination in the SEC. That’s why Tennessee will give younger players a chance to help.
Tennessee’s next real test will come when rival Florida arrives at Neyland Stadium a week from Saturday.
Tennessee has more questions than answers right now. Will the Vols come up with any this week against UTEP?
“In our program,” Pruitt said, “we’re young, we’re new, we’re trying to figure it out.”