Vol fans, we have made it.
The day we have all been waiting for has finally arrived. After a long 268 days, It Is Football Time in Tennessee!
What seemed like a long shot a couple of months ago, Tennessee’s football season kickoffs tonight.
The Vols travel to William-Brice Stadium to face the South Carolina Gamecocks. Kickoff is at 7:30 pm on the SEC Network.
Last season, the Vols defeated the Gamecocks 41-21. It was a crazy game that displayed Tennessee scoring 24 unanswered points in the 2nd half.
Tennessee’s win last season against the Gamecocks ended their three-game losing streak against South Carolina and was the start of a six-game win streak for Jeremy Pruitt and the Vols.
However, Tennessee will be looking to start the season 1-0 and end their two-game losing streak at William-Brice Stadium.
The last time a Tennessee team won at Williams-Brice Stadium was in 2014, thanks to an incredible comeback and performance from Josh Dobbs.
Tennessee has had a hard time at winning in Columbia, beating South Carolina only two times in Williams-Brice Stadium since 2006.
For Tennessee to start the season 1-0, here is what they must do.
Quarterback(s) Must Improve
The passing game was mediocre at best for the Vols last fall.
Last year Guarantano finished the season with 2,158 yards with 16 TDs and 8 INTs. His 2,158 passing yards ranks 9th among SEC quarterbacks last season. It’s fair to point out he didn’t start every game, though.
Outside of Georgia State (311 yards), and Missouri (453 yards), the New Jersey native didn’t have another game where he threw more than 230 yards.
Guarantano’s lack of consistency and abysmal performances at the start of the year led to him losing his starting job halfway through the season that he would eventually win back.
While these stats are not nice to the eye, he did finish 3rd in quarterback rating (143.99) and second in yards per attempt (8.4) in the conference in 2019.
Now I will cut him some slack.
This is the first time that the 5th year senior has had the same Offensive Coordinator for more than a season.
Guarantano must improve on his decision making and finding open receivers if Tennessee wants to get the W.
Offensive Line Needs To Get A Push
I know what you are thinking; this should not be a problem, right? We have the most talented offensive line in the SEC. Yes, we do, but three linemen in the entire offensive line group have not missed any practice.
Everyone else in that group has missed at least a couple of practices due to Covid and/or contact tracing.
One example is Wanya Morris.
Despite never testing positive for the virus, Morris was out for 28 days during fall camp due to contact tracing.
While South Carolina has lost a good amount of talent on their defense, there are a couple of guys that the offensive line needs to maintain.
LB Ernest Jones returns for his junior season. Jones led the Gamecocks last season in tackles with 97.
The Georgia native also managed to rack up 4.5 tackles for loss and 2 INTs as well.
Ernest managed to wrack up 7 tackles against the Vols last season.
Another guy, the Gamecocks, will rely heavily on their defense is junior safety Israel Mukuamu.
Mukuamu led South Carolina in interceptions with 4 and managed to add 59 tackles to his stat line.
If the offensive line can do their job and buy some time for Guarantano and RB Eric Gray and maintain Ernest Jones, Tennessee will have a great chance of winning tonight.
Defense Apply Pressure On Hill
Last week, South Carolina announced that graduate transfer Collin Hill would be the Gamecocks starting QB for week one.
This came as a surprise for Vol fans considering Sophomore Ryan Hilinski started in 11 games last season.
Collin Hill is a graduate transfer from Colorado State who joined alongside his former Head Coach Mike Bobo.
While Hill has dealt with knee injuries for most of his career, he has shown to be capable to play under a Mike Bobo offense.
Hill completed 67% of his passes for 837 yards with 8 TDs and 2 INTs before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Hill, if given time, will give Tennessee’s defense a hard time.
Vols defensive line must be able to create pressure on South Carolina’s and force Hill out of the pocket.
Tennessee’s defensive line rotation is filled with guys who have plenty of experience, which will help the Vols tremendously tonight.
With the dismissal of Emmit Gooden, the Vols will also need a lineman to be able to step up and fill that role.
Tennessee needs a breakout performance from Greg Emerson or Darrell Middleton and put pressure on that South Carolina offensive line.
If all three of these things happen, Vols should cruise to an easy victory and win their first game in Williams-Brice Stadium since 2014.