Tennessee Volunteers vs. BYU Cougars
Neyland Stadium – Knoxville, TN
Kickoff: 7:00 pm ET on ESPN
Saturday’s match-up between Tennessee and BYU will mark the first time the two schools have met. BYU, one of six independent schools in the FBS, enters the game following a 30-12 season-opening loss to the Utah Utes. Meanwhile, the Volunteers look to bounce back after being upset, 38-30, by Georgia State at home in week one.
Tennessee Must Rebound
Tennessee opened up the 2019 season with a devastating loss to a 25-point underdog in Georgia State. ESPN’s FPI index ranked the loss as the 4th biggest upset in college football history. After a decade of mediocrity, the outcome was not one that the fans took lightly. The Vols enter Neyland Stadium badly needing a win to turnaround the season and the fan base. Following last Saturday’s game, many fans expressed their displeasure by predicting the end of the Jeremy Pruitt era could be in the near future.
Pruitt announced Wednesday that two players, Terrell Bailey and Jordan Murphy, had voluntarily left the program. The announcement came after Murphy posted a video on social media mocking the Vols’ loss to Georgia State. Bailey decided to transfer due to lack of playing time in Tennessee’s secondary. This Saturday’s game gives the coaches and players an opportunity to show Tennessee fans that the ship has been righted.
Coaching Keys to Victory
Throughout the history of sports, success has started with coaching. Whether it be a fourth and short call or a late substitution, the coaches have to set their players up to succeed. Another flaw in the Georgia State game plan was the coach’s rotation strategy. Prior to opening the season, Tennessee released a depth chart showing “OR” on almost every position. Well, the coaching staff kept their word and played multiple combinations in each position group. For instance, the offensive line saw 11 different combinations against Georgia State. In a blowout victory, this strategy works to provide everyone an opportunity to showcase their skills. In a tight game, this strategy eliminates continuity on each side of the ball and keeps players from getting in any kind of rhythm. Obviously fatigue and poor performance play a role but coaches must give a majority of the snaps to their best players.
Leaders lead. Both during and following Saturday’s loss, there seemed to be a lack of leadership for Tennessee. Whether it was coaches or players, no one stepped up to motivate their team and it showed on the field. Following practice on Monday, the players had a players-only meeting. It is unknown exactly what the meeting was about but many close to the team say that it was in regards to the lack of leadership and effort to open the season. Expect veterans Jauan Jennings and Trey Smith to lead the way as Tennessee looks to solidify their group of leaders.
Offensive Keys to Victory
Tennessee must get better performances from their key players. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano threw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia State but a lot of his stats came while Tennessee trailed by double-digits late in the fourth quarter. Many of his completions were check-downs and short passes. He threw a red-zone interception, called back for pass interference, that magnified his inability to follow his progressions. Against BYU, Guarantano must show a better sense of awareness and the ability to look beyond his primary receiver and check downs.
The running back group plays a large role in the success of any offense. Ty Chandler and Eric Gray combined for 5.9 yards per carry but had a total of 13 carries. For Tennessee to win, Chandler and Gray should touch the ball on the majority of snaps. The Vols will face a BYU defense that allowed 262 rushing yards to Utah. Tennessee should look to mirror Utah’s game plan in week two. Like Pruitt said during the post-game press conference, whoever runs the ball the best will likely win the game.
Defensive Keys to Victory
If Tennessee wins on Saturday, the win would likely come from a large improvement on the defensive side. Against Georgia State, Tennessee’s defensive line failed to win the battle at the line of scrimmage. The linebackers lacked awareness and play recognition. The secondary seemed lost and unable to keep pace with the Panthers wide receivers. As a whole, the defense struggled to line up properly and showed fatigue throughout the game. All aspects of the defense must improve to contain BYU’s quarterback Zach Wilson, who Pruitt compared to former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Like week one, the Cougars have a mobile quarterback that the Vols must contain. Without an improvement from Derrick Ansley and his defense, Saturday’s match-up could end with some very unhappy fans on Rocky Top.
What a Tennessee Win Would Mean
A win against BYU would be a huge swing in momentum for the Vols. After last week’s loss, many fans have predicted that Tennessee will struggle to get more than three wins in 2019. With that being said, a season-opening loss always seems more detrimental than it actually is. Tennessee’s performance will be a key indicator of how well the Vols’ season could end up.
Should Tennessee enter Neyland Stadium and blow out a solid BYU team, the Georgia State loss would likely be seen as a fluke. Fans and media have had differing opinions on how or why Tennessee performed so poorly against Georgia State. If the Vols put up huge statistics and bury the Cougars early, many of the concerns would be laid to rest immediately. If Tennessee defeats BYU in a nail-biter then worries would mount for Tennessee’s possibility against much tougher SEC opponents.
What a Tennessee Loss Would Mean
While the loss to Georgia State was a national embarrassment for Tennessee, another loss this week would have fans in an uproar. Entering the season, the Volunteers had a few weak spots in their roster due to injuries and suspensions. However, it was also well known that Tennessee had the most returning starters from 2018. Back-to-back home losses would show, not only, the lack of improvement from last year’s 5-7 team but also a regression. Should Tennessee lose a tough game, it will be obvious that fans over-hyped Tennessee’s talent and potential in 2019. Should they lose in a dominating fashion, Pruitt’s lack to develop, coach and motivate will be brought to the fore-front and bring forward some major concerns for the second-year head coach.
Andrew Rose: Tennessee 31, BYU 20
Dylan Dozier: Tennessee 34, 31
Andrew Rose: Tennessee forces 3+ turnovers and records one defensive touchdown
Dylan Dozier: Jauan Jennings has 150+ receiving yards and two touchdowns
Following Saturday’s game against Georgia State and every game this season, fellow Tennessee Vols contributor Dylan Dozier will provide post-game analysis and an in-depth look on the performance of the Tennessee Volunteers.