Tennessee is coming off its second loss versus Kentucky in the last 33 years, and the Volunteers have had little to celebrate over the past several weeks. Southern Mississippi is coming off of a loss to a program in UAB that recently just reinstated its football program. Little is going right for these two teams, but to get the ball rolling on Tennessee’s end, here are five things the Vols will have to accomplish during Saturday’s homecoming game.
Get Tyler Byrd involved
Jones expressed how excited he was to see Tyler Byrd on the field versus Kentucky. Well coach, you are the one that has control over who gets on the field and who doesn’t. If it excites you to see Tyler Byrd on the field, well, maybe you should make sure he gets on the field more often. Byrd has expressed in a passive aggressive manner that he could possibly leave the program all together, tweeting a peace sign emoji previously after not receiving enough playing time.
Byrd was highly touted coming out of high school, ranked the number one overall cornerback in his class. Byrd will not be used on defense, so Jones should make sure he gets involved on offense. After all, he did score Tennessee’s only touchdown over a three-game span.
Protect Jarrett Guarantano
Guarantano has been beat up the past few weeks, there is no denying that. He was sacked seven times in the Kentucky game, and for being named the starting quarterback going forward the remainder of the season, this coaching staff needs to make protecting him their No. 1 priority. Southern Mississippi averages 10 tackles for loss per game, so Tennessee will have to make sure they protect its running back and quarterback.
The offensive line combinations Walt Wells has put together have not panned out. Drew Richmond in particular has been criticized for how slow he plays on the outside at his tackle position, and it may not be his fault. I have been preaching all season that Trey Smith should have been planted at the left tackle position for the next three years. Smith, the No. 1 overall player in the 2017 recruiting class, is being misused by Wells.
Use the running back stable
As Ben McKee and I discussed on Rocky Topics this week, there are four very valuable running backs on this roster. The coaching staff must get speed in open space, and that starts by getting the ball to the playmakers of this offense. Every running back on this roster is averaging over 4.5 yards per carry, so why not spread the ball around and keep opponents guessing?
Ty Chandler proved he is worthy of receiving a quality amount of touches as a true freshman. Chandler, who ran for 122 yards last week versus Kentucky, might be the closest thing to John Kelly besides Kelly himself. “My god yes,” Larry Scott said with no hesitation when asked if Chandler should be receiving more touches this season while meeting with the media on Monday.
Get inside pressure and force turnovers
This is a star-studded defensive line on paper. Unfortunately for the Volunteers, paper doesn’t beat rock. Tennessee has failed to constantly sack the quarterback this season. Colton Jumper, a former walk-on, is the leading sack getter on this team. Nothing against Jumper, but when you have the former No. 1 overall JUCO recruit (Jonathon Kongbo), and Jones’ highest rated recruit since he has been at Tennessee (Khalil McKenzie), Colton Jumper should not be leading your football team in sacks.
McKenzie has played much better this season, returning from a torn pectoral that he suffered in 2016. The defensive line as a whole has been outmatched this season, but a lot of that is due to the lack of depth. McKenzie has played well in the minutes he has logged, and his tackles for loss and sacks have both gone up from his two previous seasons. McKenzie and Shy Tuttle have got to get consistent pressure up the middle in this game for Tennessee to be successful, as the Vols forced four turnovers last week, but logged zero sacks. Tennessee has three interceptions on the season, and that has to change.
Stop the outside run
The lack of speed on the outside has become noticeable for opposing coaches. Alabama took advantage of this particularly, as Nick Saban broke Tennessee down in almost every aspect of the game, especially in the run game. Alabama logged 600 yards of offense versus Tennessee, with three-fourths of it coming on the ground.
Indiana State ran several jet sweep plays against Tennessee in the second game of the season, and it has become a recipe for disaster every time the Vols have seen one this season. Kyle Phillips and Jonathon Kongbo have got to contain Ito Smith from getting out in space this game. Smith has logged 800 yards on the ground so far this season, and 300 receiving yards. He also has big game ability, recording several 80-yard scores on the year.
Edited by Ben McKee
Feature image courtesy of UT Sports