We watched the game, watched the replays, and had 24 hours to take it all in.
Here are my five key takeaways from Tennessee’s 40-14 loss to West Virginia in Charlotte on Saturday.
1. The Vols’ offensive line still has a while to go before they can reach their potential.
Unfortunately. it looks like the acquisition of Alabama transfer Brandon Kennedy isn’t going to be a Band-Aid that instantly fixes all of the line’s issues from last season. Perhaps it could make those problems worse. To quote my entire Twitter timeline yesterday, “I think I know why Brandon Kennedy was a backup at Alabama now.” The interior line was a problem for the Vols all night and completely took away the inside run from the playbook. The coaching staff quickly took notice of this and ended up playing eight different linemen just in the first half.
2. Jarrett Guarantano looks to be a solid quarterback this season.
He went 19-for-25 for 172 yards and one touchdown on Saturday. What makes this stat line even more impressive is the consistent lack of time he had to find an open receiver and get his pass off. Guarantano was very accurate in his throws in the 12-15 yard range and repeatedly hit his receivers in stride. I would definitely like to see the staff let him take some deep shots down the field more this season. I think Guarantano removed any doubt that the staff or fans had about him from last season with his performance.
3. Tennessee’s pass rush looked the like the pass rush from 2017, and that is worrying.
West Virginia QB Will Grier was allowed all of the time in world to complete a pass on Saturday. The Vols finished the game with just two sacks and three quarterback hurries. Even when the defense rushed Grier, nobody got their hands on him, allowing him to scramble around the field and eventually find an open receiver. With a very young and inexperienced secondary, the coaching staff was looking to their veteran defensive line to pressure the quarterback into poor decisions, but that just wasn’t the case. The Vols need to fix this problem quickly as they will eventually play against Jake Fromm, Jarrett Stidham, Drew Lock, and Tua Tagovailoa this season.
4. This secondary is just as lackluster as we thought it would be.
I know that being a true freshman cornerback playing your first college game against an All-American quarterback and wide receiver quite literally might be the definition of “baptism by fire,” but Tennessee’s entire secondary was a major letdown. The Vols gave up 429 yards in the air, 275 of those in the second half. The biggest disappointment of the secondary’s performance was the play from the experienced safeties. Nobody really expected Alontae Taylor, Trevon Flowers, or Bryce Thompson to look like Jalen Ramsey during their first game, but many people did expect something from Nigel Warrior and Micah Abernathy. The veteran safeties looked lost out on the field the entire game and gave up multiple big plays.
5. Tim Jordan is really, really good.
Considering how prior to the game against West Virginia, Jordan only had 52 career rushing yards, I was quite skeptical when multiple insiders were saying he was going to start against West Virginia. I now understand why they said he was going to be the starter. Jordan finished the game with 20 carries for 118 yards and one touchdown. He looked like an Alabama running back out there the way he seemingly just bounced off defenders and kept running downfield. He certainly has All-SEC potential and will be a major weapon for the Vols offense going forward.