5 Vols To Watch For This Saturday Against Kentucky

KNOXVILLE, TN – OCTOBER 03, 2020 – Running back Eric Gray #3 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Missouri Tigers and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Eric Gray

KNOXVILLE, TN – OCTOBER 03, 2020 – Running back Eric Gray #3 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Missouri Tigers and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Last weekend was absolutely brutal for the Volunteers backfield, rushing for -1 yard on 27 carries. Most of that can be chalked up to Jarrett Guarantano being sacked five times, as well as having 10 carries for negative 40 yards.

That being said, last weekend was the worst offensive line performance I have seen from Tennessee since the days of Butch Jones.

Gray had eight carries for 25 yards, which isn’t absolutely terrible, but it isn’t what you would expect out of the eighth-ranked rusher in the SEC going into last weekend’s game. While Gray did have a brutal day in the backfield, he also had eight receptions for 54 yards out of the backfield. He is a weapon that Tennessee needs to continue to utilize if they want to win games this season.

This weekend, I expect Gray and the offensive line to rebound after facing what appears to be the best front-seven I have seen in the SEC in some time.

Henry To’o To’o

COLUMBIA, SC – SEPTEMBER 26, 2020 – Linebacker Henry To’o To’o #11 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Tennessee Volunteers at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

That’s right, To’o To’o is back in this list after being left out last weekend.

Against the Bulldogs, To’o To’o had 11 tackles and two TFLs, a performance that would have only been improved by a sack or an interception. To’o To’o and the defense looked absolutely gassed after Guarantano and the offensive line failed to keep them off of the field last weekend.

This weekend, To’o To’o gets to face off against a Kentucky offense that is first in the SEC in rushing, with 637 yards. Kentucky isn’t a pushover when it comes to running the ball, last season they also led the conference in rushing yards.

However, the Wildcats are almost dead last in passing yards, only ahead of Vanderbilt by 30 yards, averaging a measly 154 yards per game passing.This weekend is To’o To’o’s chance to solidify himself as one of the future greats. If he can stop Kentucky’s bruising backfield as captain of the defense, Vol fans will be singing his praises for years to come.

Deandre Johnson

KNOXVILLE, TN – OCTOBER 03, 2020 – Linebacker Deandre Johnson #13 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Missouri Tigers and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Last weekend, Johnson was ejected on what I believe was the right call. Did he lower his helmet? Yes. Should he have been ejected? Debatable.

Jeremy Pruitt said it best in his post-game press conference.

“The whole thing about really any defenseless player, if you can avoid contact and you can see that, it’s your job as a defensive player to do that,” Pruitt said. “I’ve always felt like that this rule, there’s probably inconsistency in the rule.”

While Pruitt did admit it was a bad decision by Johnson, he didn’t put him down or tear him down. That being said, Johnson still leads the SEC with 3.5 sacks and this weekend, one could imagine he’ll be hungry to correct his mistake from last weekend. Johnson should be good and rested up considering the amount of time he didn’t play last week.

Hopefully Johnson can chalk up a few more sacks against a team that struggles with passing the ball.

The Entire Defensive Line

KNOXVILLE, TN – SEPTEMBER 17, 2020 – Defensive lineman Greg Emerson #90 of the Tennessee Volunteers during 2020 Fall Camp practice on Haslam Field in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

Last weekend I said the entire offensive line, slapped the TVA sticker on them and felt pretty good.

After a mediocre performance to what we’re used to from the offensive line, this week I’m putting all my chips on the defensive line. The same defensive line that had two absolutely monstrous stops against a Bulldog offensive line that hasn’t been easy to stop this year.

On third and goal, this defensive line stood tall, stopping the Bulldogs from busting through to the end zone. With one second left in the first half, the defensive line absolutely mauled Georgia’s offensive line to stop Bulldog running back Zamir White in a fourth and goal situation.

Unfortunately for them in the second half, they wouldn’t be able to get off of the field due to offensive woes, which means they couldn’t keep up with Georgia’s offense. This weekend, after some rest, I believe they will face one of their toughest assignments of the season against the top ranked rushing offense in the league. Hopefully, they stand tall like they did against Georgia.

Josh Palmer

ATHENS, GA – OCTOBER 10, 2020 – Wide receiver Josh Palmer #5 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Tennessee Volunteers at Sanford Stadium in Athens, GA. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

In last Saturday’s devastating loss to Georgia, Palmer was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak situation.

Palmer had four receptions for 71 yards and two touchdowns, including a beautiful ball floated to him in the end zone by Guarantano. Palmer is set to have his best season yet, already reaching the same number of touchdowns this year as he has had in his entire career as a Vol.

Palmer is halfway to his best season as far as receiving yards statistically, with 227 yards, compared to 2019 when he had 457 yards and 2018 when he had 484 yards. Saturday, Palmer gets to go against a Wildcat team that has allowed 276 yards passing per game, as well as seven passing touchdowns through three games.

I expect Palmer to have at least one touchdown grab this weekend, in one of the most important games of the year for the Vols.