Tennessee’s eight-game winning streak came to an end as Jeremy Pruitt and the Vols were blown out by Georgia 44-21 last Saturday.
Despite getting a goal line stop at the end of the 1st half and leading 21-17, the Vols’ defense gave up 27 unanswered points to lose to the Dawgs. The Vols will look to get back to their winning ways as they face the Kentucky Wildcats this weekend in Neyland Stadium.
Kentucky is 1-2 this season and is coming off an impressive 24-2 win over Mississippi State. Kentucky’s two losses this season came to Auburn (29-13), and to Ole Miss (42-41 OT). Tennessee currently has a two-game winning streak against the Wildcats, defeating Kentucky 17-13 last season and 24-7 in 2018.
The Vols have also won 35 of the last 38 games against the Cats.
In order to extend the winning streak to three and continue their dominant streak against Kentucky, here is what the Vols need to do:
Offensive Line Needs To Improve ASAP
There is no need to sugarcoat the O-line performance last weekend, they were bad.
In fact, they were god-awful.
Tennessee decided to name their O-Line the TVA before the Georgia game last weekend. Well, that completely backfired. Tennessee’s offensive line was one of the biggest reasons why they failed to get the win in Athens. Tennessee allowed five sacks and six TFLs in the loss.
The offensive line also allowed Georgia’s defense get three turnovers in the 2nd half as well. But the most shocking stat was that Tennessee rushed for -1 yard. This is unacceptable in so many levels.
Kentucky’s defense is nowhere near the level that Georgia’s is, but they are still a solid defense. Georgia’s defense is rated as the second best total defense in FBS. Kentucky is ranked 23rd. But regardless, the OL has to bounce back and play well this Saturday.
Wanya Morris and Cade Mays will need to bounce back after their bad performances against Georgia. The OL will set the tone for the game. If they can get going and allow the offense to set up the run game, the Vols will have a great chance of a win.
But, if they fail to create holes for Ty Chandler and Eric Gray, this is a game that could come down to the wire.
Quarterback Play MUST Improve
I am getting pretty sick and tired of repeating this every game. But, this is something that I will have to say all season long. QB play has to improve immediately.
Jarrett Guarantano has to play better. Simple as that.
Guarantano’s 2nd half performance killed Tennessee’s chances to beat Georgia. When you look his stats, they do not look that bad: 23/36 with 215 passing yards, 2 TDs and an INT. However, it is worth to note that 101 of those passing yards and both of those touchdowns came in the first half.
All three of Tennessee’s turnovers were because of Guarantano. To start off the 2nd half, Guarantano fumbled the ball on 3rd &14 and it was recovered by Georgia. The very next possession, the senior threw an interception.
The last turnover came with 9:56 left in the game when Guarantano fumbled the ball which was recovered by Georgia for a touchdown. According to Pro Football Focus, he is ranked the 13th best quarterback in the SEC.
He is ranked better than one starting QB in the entire conference. For a fifth year senior, this is just unacceptable.
For a win on Saturday, quarterback play has to improve. If Guarantano’s play doesn’t improve, Pruitt should move on and give JT Shrout a shot. If Pruitt keeps Guarantano in and he struggles, Kentucky could get their first win in Neyland Stadium since 1984.
The Defense Has To Stop Terry Wilson
If there is something that Tennessee has always struggled against, it is mobile quarterbacks.
Georgia’s Stetson Bennett is by no stretch considered to be a mobile QB. However, Tennessee allowed Bennett to grab 22 rushing yards and a rushing TD. Kentucky QB Terry Wilson is about as mobile as they get.
Wilson leads the team in rushing with 221 yards and three TDs. He also has 463 passing yards and two passing TDs. Tennessee’s defense managed to stop Kentucky QB Lynn Bowden Jr last year in their 17-13 win.
Bowden only went 4/7 for 25 yards and an INT in the passing game while having 26 carries for 114 yards rushing. Bowden already graduated, but Wilson is very similar. Wilson is an elusive QB who is able to get out of trouble and breakout for big gains.
Tennessee must be able to stop this quick QB. If the Vols’ front-seven can put great pressure on Kentucky’s line and get to Wilson, the Vols should walk out with a W.
But if they fail to put pressure on the QB like last weekend, Tennessee could be in for a long day.