Tennessee kicked off the season with a 40-14 loss against West Virginia on Saturday in Charlotte. After a long off season of wondering what the team would look like under Jeremy Pruitt, fans finally got to look at the finished product on the field.
The reviews will be mixed, to say the least.
Here’s some snap reactions on the current status and outlook of the team following the loss.
That secondary. . . yikes.
It’s very important to keep in perspective that Tennessee just played against a top-25 team with potentially a top-10 offense. Will Grier, for all of his faults (*cough* PEDs *cough*), is liable to finish as one of the top quarterbacks in the country at the end of the season.
When it comes down to it, though, West Virginia exposed Tennessee’s young secondary today. Grier threw for 429 yards, averaging 12.6 yards per attempt. Throw in some missed tackles and sporadic confusion on how to line up on a handful of plays, and Tennessee’s secondary had a rough day.
That said, there were multiple freshmen on the field the majority of the game. Pruitt has a track record of turning corners and safetys into stars if he is around them long enough.
So, improvement should be inevitable.
This offense could potentially be special, offensive line pending
Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was a very pleasant surprise today. It’s no secret he had a rough year last season for a multitude of reasons. So, coming into this season, it was anybody’s guess as to how well he would perform. His 172 yard, 19-for-25, one touchdown day won’t land him in any record books. But, for a quarterback that was supposedly competing for his job, Guarantano played well. He was absolutely slinging the ball most of the day, and never really missed any open receivers. Going forward, it will probably be his job to lose.
Running back was another position that was up in the air going into the game. After Ty Chandler went down, Tim Jordan stepped in and looked like he might be the featured back going forward. He finished with 118 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown. Hopefully, Chandler will come back healthy soon to add to an already talented stable of running backs.
Unlike running back and quarterback, everyone knew that the wide receivers would be good this year. Marquez Callaway will probably be the main target this season, with Jauan Jennings and Josh Palmer serving as more than capable targets. Tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson had the lone receiving touchdown. The big JUCO addition will likely be a favorite in the red zone.
The offensive line is the big question mark holding the offense back right now. In the first quarter, the unit as a whole was nothing short of disastrous. Even in the face of a middling Big 12 defense, they couldn’t consistently create running room or give Guarantano time to throw against the blitz. Even the shining star of the unit, Trey Smith, had a couple of false starts. Hopefully they can work out the kinks before conference play. Most SEC defenses blitz far more often than West Virginia did today. Tennessee’s offense this year will go as far as the offensive line will let them.
Pruitt can handle making good in-game decisions
Since this is was his first game as a head coach at any level, it wasn’t necessarily a given that Pruitt could keep his head when the lights were on and all eyes were on him. Pruitt proved today, though, that he would be just fine calling all the shots. Vol fans everywhere rejoiced when he went for it on 4th down in the red zone with a couple of tight ends. It might not have even mattered if they converted or not. The only asterisk is how he handled the extended halftime with the rain delay, because Tennessee looked very sluggish to start the second half.
Tennessee should have kept this game closer than it did. But, with so many variables going into the game, expecting to compete against a top-25 team immediately following a 4-8 season probably wasn’t very realistic. Tennessee has an opportunity to work out some of the issues they had tonight against ETSU next week in the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium.