Tennessee had a chance last week to regroup and reset after a tough start to the year with the bye week. This coaching staff needs some key offensive adjustments if they want to avoid another historically bad season. This bye week came at the perfect moment for the struggling Vols. However, in recent years, the bye has not been kind to Tennessee. From players inexplicably “falling on helmets” to injuries to key players, many fans lamented the bye week as a cruel irony. This year, under the new leadership in Knoxville, it finally seems the Tennessee bye week was a needed success for the Vols.
Tennessee Bye Week
In general, coaches look forward to the off date in their schedules as an opportunity to regroup halfway through the season. It is usually a good opportunity to rest key players, make adjustments with true game film, and prepare for the bulk of the conference schedule. Media members use the timing of the off week as a key analysis point when examining schedules in “talking season”. Who gets the extra week of rest before their biggest divisional rival comes to town?
In general, the bye week is a positive opportunity. However, in recent years, Tennessee teams have not fared well in the annual bye week match-up. Injured players, embarrassing controversies, fights, and poor team chemistry have made the opportunity more of a distraction. As was the case with so many aspects of the program during the last decade, Tennessee could not get out of their own way. Although we won’t truly know the effectiveness of the bye week until Tennessee takes on Auburn, it does seem there was more good than bad to come from this past week. Here are some positive takeaways from the week off.
Tennessee gets healthy, avoids injury
Tennessee had a brutal start to the season, playing three of the top 15 teams according to our top 25 ranking. Undoubtedly, that left several players with some minor bumps and bruises. One of these included Marquez Callaway, who left the Georgia game early after two defenders came crashing down and converged on him. Callaway made the catch in the game, but came up obviously groggy. He was quickly taken off the field to be evaluated. There have been no reports he is questionable for the game this weekend. Regardless if Callaway was required to go through the concussion protocol, it appears he is cleared to play this week. This means the bye week came at an excellent time to make sure one of Tennessee’s best playmakers will be ready to go.
Tennessee also had a couple nagging injuries, including Jauan Jennings hamstring and Jarrett Guarantano‘s knee that may have been affecting their play in recent weeks. Jennings has been notably absent from the stat sheet after coming in with high expectations. Guarantano had the scare during the Florida game when a Florida defender seemingly took a late hit on the sophomore’s knee. Keller Chryst had to finish the contest for the Vols. Guarantano would return to lead the offense against Georgia, but has not shown much mobility in the pocket. The bye week has given the team a chance to nurse some of these minor strains. This will be critical if the Vols want to pull of an upset against the Tigers on the Plains.
Lastly, Tennessee seemed to avoid the catastrophic injury to a key player during the bye week. The broken collarbone suffered by freshman safety Trevon Flowers was the only notable injury. This will hurt the depth in the secondary, and Flowers had been playing reasonably well between a few freshman mistakes. However, Tennessee does have some options at this position, including seasoned starters Nigel Warrior and Micah Abernathy. Overall, the Vols avoided the season changing injury during practice this week.
Auburn Struggles, Reveals Weakness
Not everything that went well happened around the Vols program. Tennessee coaches and fans alike had to enjoy watching their upcoming opponent struggle last week. In case you missed it, the Auburn Tigers fell to the Mississippi State Bulldogs. That dropped them to 3-2 for the season. In the loss, the Tigers really struggled to move the ball at all. Mississippi State sacked quarterback Jarrett Stidham three times and kept Auburn out of the endzone. While the defense has played well, the offense has been a notable disappointment this year for the Tigers. There is palpable unrest in the fanbase, and Gus Malzahn may be losing his locker room. Stidham is a pocket quarterback, and Malzahn’s offense has historically performed best with a mobile passer under center.
Tennessee has to be encouraged by the numbers the Bulldogs were able to accrue on the ground against Auburn as well. This Tennessee team has been committed to establishing the run. While the front seven for Auburn is quite heralded, Mississippi State showed they can be susceptible to the run. With the extra preparation time, Tennessee should be able to put some new wrinkles in the run game. Look for them to use this to open up the play action passing game.
Georgia Loses Key Recruits after Pruitt’s Recruiting Weekend
When Jeremy Pruitt was hired, he was told he would be judged against three teams as the Tennessee head coach. Those teams are Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. Currently, the Vols do not seem to have the horses to run with these teams at the moment. Pruitt understands that recruiting is the only way to close the gap. This was the reason that Pruitt rearranged his media schedule to hit the recruiting trail during the off week. Coincidentally, one of those three teams seemed to suffer a rash of decommitments oddly at the same time. Georgia lost commitments from the nation’s number 1 receiver Jadon Haselwood as well as four star defenders JD Bertrand (LB,Roswell, Ga) and Jalen Perry (CB, Dacula, Ga).
This rash of decommitments may seem directly related to Pruitt’s recruiting trip. Whether it is or isn’t, bad news for Tennessee’s key divisional rivals is always good news for the Vols. In addition, perhaps Tennessee and this touted staff of recruiters can get in the ear of one or more of these elite prospects as they reopen their recruitment.
Tennessee will take on the Auburn Tigers at 11AM (CST) in Jordan-Hare Stadium this week. Tennessee is still searching for it’s first conference win of the season, and looks to break a few streaks in the process. Most know Tennessee has lost 11 straight conference games. Furthermore, they have not beaten an SEC West opponent in 15 attempts. Their last win against a cross divisional foe came against Ole Miss in 2010. Tennessee will look to shock the reeling Tigers on the road and steal a win during the toughest portion of their schedule.