The Tennessee Vols traveled into Columbia looking for a win, and that’s what they got. The lack of work they didn’t get in during the last six weeks wouldn’t come back to bite them.
This was a game the Vols needed to win.
Not just because it was the first game, but because they had the talent to win. They couldn’t let the Gamecocks get in control, especially in the passing game. This was a Vols secondary that was hurting at certain spots due to either “not traveling,” contact tracing, or just trying to get acclimated.
Simply put, it was going to be ugly, but Tennessee needed to be a bit prettier.
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Vols have a lot of talent at LB, it’s about putting it all together
Henry To’oTo’o had himself a nice game, being the leader of the defense, especially with his pick-six. But even Henry will tell you they’ve got a ways to go, even if he was pleased with their performance.
“I was pretty happy with the way we performed. Of course, we made many mistakes, a lot of mental errors, and a lot of technique stuff that we can clean up. It was a good performance for us. There’s a lot of areas we can clean up, and that’s definitely something we’ll focus on as we go throughout this week.”
When discussing Deandre Johnson and Tyler Baron, To’oTo’o was very complimentary and thankful for his defensive line.
“Those two guys have done a tremendous job, and not only them. Our entire outside linebacker crew, our entire defensive line. They did a tremendous job coming off the rock and putting pressure on the quarterback so the people on the back end could make some plays. All props to our D-line. Without them, they start the whole thing.”
Jeremy Banks played with that aggression the coaching staff was looking for, though they could’ve done without his two penalties. Banks just looked faster and had the aggression to get the gaps filled in certain spots.
I would pay very close attention to how this linebacker situation plays out. To me, it looked like Banks played quicker than Crouch last night, something that isn’t exactly bad but could make for some interesting formations in the future.
This group is stacked with talent, but you can’t play them all at once, though I am sure Jeremy Pruitt will try and figure out a way. Crouch, Bennett, Johnson, Baron, Banks, Joseph, and Harrison. Yep, the Vols definitely have options along with Henry To’oTo’o.
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Tennessee has a lot of work to do on defense, especially on the front line and the secondary
With Tank McCollough not playing until later on in the second half and Shawn Shamburger not making the trip to Columbia, the Vols moved some guys around. They’d been practicing this for weeks now, putting Bryce Thompson at the safety position and moving Slaughter to the star position.
That meant having Alontae Taylor and Kenneth George playing at corner, though this was rotational. It was easy to spot where they Vols were having trouble. Across the middle slants that turn into 30 yards, they’ve got to put an end to this tradition.
The defensive line didn’t play bad; they have much work to put in still. The Vols don’t have that monster on the line at the moment; they have to rely on a crew of guys.
Don’t get me wrong; once Aubrey Solomon gets back to full speed, he will definitely help this core. Whenever Darel Middleton returns to full rotation in practice, it should add another big body for push.
But right now, you’ve got a bunch of guys with high motors. LaTrell Bumphus, Kurot Garland, Elijah Simmons, and Matthew Butler will give you those hard snaps; the staff doesn’t have to worry about that. But still, you’ve got to get one of those “monsters” rolling. Tennessee needs it.
Vols will get better offensively, especially at wide receiver
This one is pretty simple. When you have almost the entire wide receiver room, have to miss a good chunk of camp and practice because of “contact tracing,” it’s going to take a game or two to get in a rhythm.
Jarrett Guarantano hasn’t had consistent practice with his group; it has been hit and miss for the past six weeks. This is not anyone’s fault; it’s just Covid life.
Josh Palmer led the way for Tennessee, with 6 catches for 85 yards and 1 touchdown. That one TD was courtesy of a beautiful pass from Guarantano and some great route running from Palmer, as he said postgame.
“I just had a go route. I saw the DB was playing about, off about eight yards. I just attacked him, and JG [Jarrett Guarantano] trusted me to throw the ball. The O-line held up pretty well the entire game, so shout out to them. I just had a traditional go route, beat the defender and caught it over the shoulder.”
Velus Jones Jr. had 5 catches for Tennessee and definitely helped his team in the kick returning game. Velus will be someone JG can rely on this season, especially across the middle. He reminds me of a faster Pig Howard, definitely with a bigger bust of speed and versatility.
Brandon Johnson red-shirted last season, hoping for the kind of opportunities that came on Saturday night. Johnson had a gorgeous one-handed grab for Tennessee’s only 3rd down conversion.
Tennessee was 1-11 last night on 3rd down.
The one exception, courtesy of Brandon Johnson. pic.twitter.com/492nvX4L0t
— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) September 27, 2020
Josh Palmer couldn’t have been more excited for his teammate.
“Brandon Johnson is a dog. He red-shirted last year, and I was really excited to see him come out today. He played my freshman year, and he was a beast. I was really happy to see him out there having fun and making plays. Brandon Johnson’s been making plays all fall camp, and today he showed everybody what he could do. Brandon comes out and gives you 100 percent every day. Every time he’s on the field, he goes hard, and we feed off that. Brandon’s a great leader.”
Don’t forget about Ramel Keyton, either. The veteran receiver only had 2 catches last night, but he was targeted multiple times, with a few overthrown balls and a drop.
Tennessee has to continue working on the timing and syncing of this core, with Guarantano. It will come, but only practice and in-game work will get them there. The Vols have the ability to open up the field, so patience is a virtue.
Jeremy Pruitt knew it would take a lot of grit for this team to pull out the win in Columbia, especially with the way camp has gone.
“There was a lot of good; we just were very inconsistent. That’s the one thing. We played about like I thought we would play. Being in this business for a while, you know when a team’s ready to play, and because of circumstances we faced during fall camp, I knew we weren’t ready to play a game at a high level. But we actually played better in spurts than I was afraid we would. Then there were times we didn’t sustain. We had a couple of guys out tonight, but hopefully, we’ll get these guys back. It’s encouraging that our guys continue to find a way. Can’t say enough about it.”
It was a wild day, as the SEC started up their season. So, this Jeremy Pruitt quote sums it up pretty nicely for his team.
“The bottom line is we’re leaving Columbia with a W, and that’s what we came here for.”
All Images Courtesy Of Tennessee Athletic Communications