3 Burning Questions for Tennessee as it Enters SEC Play vs. Florida

Sep 18, 2018 1:09 PM EDT
  • Tennessee had issues last weekend against UTEP, a team the Vols made too many mistakes against.
  • The same questions are surrounding Tennessee's football team entering SEC play, most notably along both lines of scrimmage.
  • Tennessee QB Jarrett Guarantano will play an important role in how many games the Vols win this season.

How disappointing was Tennessee’s 24-0 win against UTEP last week? That was only the third time in the Miners’ last 15 games they’ve allowed 24 points or fewer. UNLV’s 52 points against UTEP were more than double UT’s.

Coach Jeremy Pruitt knows the Vols have to be better entering SEC play, which begins Saturday against Florida.

“That’s not where we want to be,” Pruitt said. “Absolutely not.”

Tennessee wants to be a team that plays hard, eliminates mistakes and forces turnovers on defense. The Vols have a talent disadvantage compared to most SEC foes, which creates a small margin of error.

Most of the questions Tennessee has been trying to get answered in the first few weeks of the season are still there heading into Week 4.

Will the O-Line Hold up vs. SEC Teams?

That’s hard to believe considering the Vols’ issues against East Tennessee State and UTEP the last two weeks.

Running back Ty Chandler did spring an 81-yard touchdown run against UTEP. Perhaps running left — which is the direction Chandler took — is the Vols’ best solution thanks to preseason All-SEC left tackle Trey Smith.

Tennessee’s right tackle play has struggled, and its guard-center-guard combination has been unable to dominate inferior opponents. Wait until it has to go up against SEC linemen.

Tennessee’s coaching staff has continued to move offensive linemen around in practice to find the right group. Pruitt said Monday that will likely continue.

For now, there’s no reason to think the offensive line will improve.

Can Tennessee Generate Pressure?

Tennessee’s front seven appeared more effective against UTEP, and that was without offering too much creativity in the way it attacked the Miners.

Tennessee needs to be better at rushing the passer and keeping containment, but Pruitt provides one reason to be confident.

Pruitt is one of the best defensive coaches in the country and should put together a plan that will give Tennessee’s defense a chance to be successful.

The concern is the personnel. Does Tennessee have enough playmakers on defense?

The Vols failed to force a turnover against UTEP, which had turned the ball over three times in each of its first two games against Northern Arizona and UNLV.

“It’s going to be hard to win in the SEC moving forward not creating any turnovers,” Pruitt said. “We’re going to have to be a team that creates a bunch of turnovers. We’ve got balls that’s hitting us all over — in the head, in the hands.”

Can Jarrett Guarantano Lead Tennessee’s Offense?

Tennessee’s quarterback has done everything asked of him so far.

Through three games this season, Guarantano has completed 39 of 54 passes (72.2%) for 494 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s also shown the mobility that fans were calling for last season.

The real test will begin Saturday when Guarantano faces a more athletic, opportunistic Florida defense.

Guarantano has plenty of playmakers around him; he just needs enough time to get them the ball.

Wide receivers Marquez Callaway, Jauan Jennings, Brandon Johnson and Josh Palmer have all shown themselves to be trustworthy in the passing game.

Tennessee’s skill positions probably create the most optimism for the Vols entering SEC play.

Backup quarterback Keller Chryst has seen limited time the last two weeks, including at the end of the first half against UTEP, but don’t read too much into that. Guarantano has shown he is Tennessee’s quarterback, and Chryst — a grad transfer from Stanford — is the backup.

So is Tennessee ready?

Tennessee didn’t look ready last week against UTEP, but how much of that was affected by the quality of opponent and the Vols’ lack of interest?

Expectations are low at Tennessee, which might not be favored to win any of its eight SEC games this season. The Vols know they have to prove a lot of people wrong if they’re going to make a run at six wins and bowl eligibility this season.

Again, is Tennessee ready for SEC play? Even Pruitt is waiting to find out.

“I don’t know, you don’t really have a choice in that,” he said. “I would hope we’re ready. If you come to Tennessee, you came to play in the SEC, so I would hope they’re ready to play in the SEC.”

Credit:

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Tennessee Volunteers football

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