July 22, 2024

Takeaways from Vols’ loss to West Virginia

Tennessee drops its first game to West Virginia at a neutral site in a loss of 40-14

On a warm Saturday night in Charlotte, North Carolina, Tennessee started slowly, started to gain momentum in the second quarter and eventually fell to Will Grier and the 17th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers 40-14 in Jeremy Pruitt’s head-coaching debut.

Here are five key points to take away from the matchup:

Jeremy Pruitt coaches in aggressive fashion

Faced with a 4th and 1 at the one-yard-line, Pruitt needed to make a decision: take the field goal or go for the touchdown.

With no delay, the first-year head coach decided: go for it.

“We’re not here to run a sprint,” Pruitt said after the game. “We’re here to run a marathon. We want to be an aggressive team that plays to win.”

While the Vols didn’t pull out the victory, Pruitt’s aggressiveness provides a breath of fresh air. Pruitt wants to win, and he knows that victory requires risks. Pruitt’s willingness to gamble can provide a big turning point moving forward.

Will Grier still shows talent 

Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier battled many obstacles to get to this season.

After a stellar freshman season at Florida, Grier tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Following NCAA suspension and dismissal from the Gator squad, Grier transferred to West Virginia. He then became a father and sought redemption with a new outlook on life and on the game.

Through it all, the Heisman candidate remained as talented as he was for Florida.

A native of Davidson, North Carolina, close to Charlotte, Grier broke open the game for West Virginia in the second half.

He went 25-34 through the air with five touchdowns in total. Four of those scores came in the final 30 minutes.

Besides an excellent game passing, Grier also provided a spark for the Mountaineers with his mobility.

While Grier didn’t net any positive yardage running the ball, his ability to scamper and get out of the pocket made containment hard for the Tennessee defense. One play signified Grier’s impressive wheels more than any other: he escaped the pocket, ran more than 20 yards backward while the Vols’ defensive line gave chase, and he still gained four yards after sprinting back within the line of scrimmage.

If Tennessee wants to succeed on defense, the Vols must learn to handle a mobile quarterback like Grier.

Granted, Grier may well be the best quarterback Tennessee faces this season, but the principle still applies.

Tennessee’s defense needs work

Besides allowing Grier to make plays with his maneuverability, the Tennessee defense left plenty of gaps for the Mountaineers to exploit.

They did.

West Virginia finished with 118 total rushing yards on the night.

While that may not seem like a lot, the Mountaineers used a ram-it-down-your-throat run game to slice through the Vols’ first and second levels.

Mountaineer running back Martell Pettaway finished with nine carries for 56 yards, including a 22-yard jaunt that drilled through the Vols’ secondary.

Behind Pettaway, Leddie Brown carried eight times for 33 yards. Kennedy McCoy posted four rushes for 18 yards.

At one point late in the game, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen called McCoy’s number on three straight occasions to deliver the Mountaineers across the 50-yard-line- against Tennessee’s first-team defense.

In order to be successful, the Vols must bolster their depth and conditioning at each defensive spot. Otherwise, they’ll continue to burn out once the fourth quarter rolls around.

Tim Jordan: the next John Kelly?

Before this game, few people knew what a workhorse Tennessee has in running back Tim Jordan.

They do now.

Jordan burst onto the scene Saturday night with a quality display of power and speed, especially for a back without a lot of attention.

Sound familiar?

After the departure of running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara following the 2016 season, current Los Angeles Ram John Kelly proved vital to a Vols’ offense that didn’t have many other bright spots.

Kelly’s spotlight game against Georgia Tech to open the 2017 campaign featured 19 carries for 128 yards and four touchdowns for the Vols.

Aside from the touchdowns, Jordan’s night was similar to Kelly’s opener last season.

The sophomore ripped through the West Virginia defense for 118 yards on 20 carries, which averages out to an impressive 5.9 yards per carry.

“He’s a great running back,” Vols tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson said after the game.

If Jordan continues to play like he did tonight, Tennessee may have well found a bruising feature back to anchor what currently looks to be an offense seeking identity.

Guarantano gets the nod

Speaking of identity, Tennessee’s offense finally found its leader in Jarrett Guarantano on Saturday.

All offseason, questions popped up regarding who would start for the Vols: Guarantano or graduate transfer Keller Chryst.

Fans got their answer immediately as Guarantano trotted out to lead the offense for the Vols’ first series of 2018.

“They both deserved to play,” Pruitt said afterward. “It’s been a really close battle between those two guys. Jarrett is probably just a little more athletic.”

While that athleticism didn’t do much for Tennessee against a stingy West Virginia defense, Pruitt also referred to Chryst as the “backup.”

“Keller Chryst is going to play,” Pruitt said. “We need to play him.”

Whether the key be a quarterback switch or defensive adjustments, the Vols certainly need to make tweaks before taking on ETSU and UTEP in the next two weeks.

Florida rolls into Knoxville the week after UTEP, so Tennessee must adapt quickly if it hopes to be successful through the meat of its SEC schedule.

 

Featured photo by Jake Nichols

Edited by Lexie Little

Sports editor Jake Nichols has been part of the TNJN staff in two different capacities. His freshman and sophomore years, Jake worked as a staff writer before moving on to write for Rocky Top Insider, and he also worked with VFL Films and the SEC Network for a semester his junior year. When asked the summer before his senior year to return to TNJN as the sports editor, Jake jumped at the chance to end his time in Knoxville working with the organization he first began with as a freshman. Jake is excited to help lead younger writers, much like former editors Cody McClure and Jordan Dajani aided him. Jake also does freelance sports coverage and photography for The Mountain Press in Sevierville, Tenn., and in his spare time, he can be found with family, his girlfriend or driving his Jeep, most likely with his Canon in tow. Be sure and follow Jake on Twitter and Instagram at @jnichols_2121, and keep up with TNJN Sports on Twitter as well!