Find a way to keep winning the turnover battle
Simply put, Tennessee is 5-0 this year when they tie or win the turnover battle, and 0-5 when they don’t. It’s no secret that turnovers can turn a game on its head almost immediately. Fortunately, Tennessee has done a good job of taking care of the ball lately, only coughing it up twice in the last three games.
Defensively, Tennessee has only forced eight turnovers in six SEC games so far. That doesn’t sound too bad, until you realize six of those eight came against two opponents: Florida and Mississippi State. They’ve shown they can force a lot of turnovers against Chattanooga and UAB. Now they just need to show they can do it consistently against SEC opponents.
Missouri and Vanderbilt aren’t great at forcing turnovers on defense, forcing seven each in five SEC games. On offense, through those same five games, Missouri has given up eight and Vandy has given up nine. Tennessee should be be able to create turnovers against both of them without giving up too many.
Figure out who the starting quarterback is
I wavered back and forth on including this one. We all know just how all over the place the position has been with the fluctuating competency of Jarrett Guarantano, Brian Maurer’s injury situation, and desperation of starting JT Shrout or Jauan Jennings. Ideally, this would be a non-issue. As the old adage goes, “If you have more than one quarterback, you don’t have a quarterback.”
Tennessee certainly appears to have more than one quarterback.
I would imagine that Jeremy Pruitt will just go with the hot hand and start whoever has the best couple weeks of practice. And there’s nothing particularly wrong with that. JG has shown that he can be a serviceable quarterback the last couple of games after an absolutely abysmal first half of the season. Maurer showed flashes of glory earlier in the year, but has since come back down to Earth. Shrout even played well against South Carolina, so we know he can produce against SEC competition. And if worse comes to worse, we all know The Dog himself can get back there and handle business.
All that is to say, Tennessee’s offense hasn’t exactly been the most consistent this year, so far. It would be nice if there was one less question to answer about the offense going forward.
Recruit, Recruit, Recruit
I had a nice, cohesive paragraph typed up about how Pruitt and Co. need to bounce back from some disappointing recruiting losses of late. And how they need to capitalize on some good on-field results of late and overall positivity around the program.
Then Moose tweeted.
— Brian Niedermeyer (@NiedermeyerB) November 12, 2019
He summed it all up in less than 140 characters and a picture.
Find a way to get the run game going
This is more about the Missouri game than it is the Vanderbilt game.
Statistically, Tennessee’s offense regresses when they’re on the road. They go from 381 yards per game and three offensive touchdowns per game at home to 256 yards per game and one offensive touchdown per game on the road. The story behind that stat is Tennessee’s road games have been against solid defenses in Alabama and Florida, and a Kentucky team that held onto the ball for 42 minutes of a 60 minute game. So take it with a grain of salt.
Unfortunately, Missouri may have a better defense than all three of those teams. They’ve allowed an SEC best 148 passing yards per game, and are only giving up 70 rushing yards per game at home. Good for two yards per carry. It will be tough to move the ball in Columbia next weekend. And with who is starting at quarterback up in the air, it would be nice to be able to fall back on a nice, consistent run game.
Fortunately, for Tennessee, Vanderbilt’s defense is, at best, porous. At worst, they’re a butterfly net catching smoke in the wind. They’re 117th in the country in pass defense (268.8 yards per game), 101st in the country in rush defense (197 yards per game), and 117th in the country in total defense (465.8 yards per game). Can’t imagine Jim Chaney will have trouble finding a way in that one. . .hopefully.
All the drills. Watching film. Your homework. All your food at dinner. Clean plate club or you’re cut. Finish everything, just to set that mentality in stone.
The last few weeks have been good for Tennessee and Pruitt. But they were in a similar position this time last season and faltered down the stretch. If they can’t finish this season with a bowl bid, then it’ll be a pretty big red flag going forward. And Pruitt will probably be right back on the hot seat to start next season.
Fortunately, though, it seems at this juncture, with a bye week going into their final two games, that they’re all set to reach a bowl game. Even if Missouri goes poorly, Vanderbilt is as winnable a game as there is in the SEC, this year.
This is a good week for everyone to get into the mindset of finishing. It’s one of the biggest issues this Tennessee program has had the last few years. Finish this year strong, and regardless of how the bowl game goes (within reason), there’s bound to be plenty of optimism around the program going into next year.