Tennessee Volunteers (0-2) vs. Chattanooga Mocs (1-1)
12:00 pm ET on SEC Network
The win-less Vols face near-by Chattanooga Mocs Saturday in Neyland Stadium. The two teams will face off for the 32nd time since 1907. The Vols hold a 28-1-2 record against the Mocs with their only loss coming in 1958. Their most recent match-up came in 2014 when quarterback Justin Worley led Tennessee to a 45-10 victory.
Vols Must Bounce Back Following BYU
Yes, last Saturday’s loss to BYU was a heart breaker. Yes, Tennessee players, coaches, and fans were all extremely disappointed. Tennessee enters week three with back-to-back opening losses for the first time since 1988 when they started 0-6. However, the season is far from over. Despite the two losses, the Vols enter Saturday’s game against Chattanooga as heavy favorites. Against the Mocs, Tennessee must learn from their mistakes and strengthen their weaknesses as they prepare for the brutal, upcoming SEC schedule. The Vols improved drastically from Georgia State to BYU but that must continue to improve, quickly.
How to Win on Offense
Tennessee’s biggest struggle against BYU was on the offensive side. Though not as much, the coaching staff continued to rotate multiple line combinations against the Cougars. As week three approaches, Coach Will Friend must decide who his starting five are. It is very difficult to find rhythm, confidence, and continuity when the line is constantly being shuffled. The saying “if you have two starting quarterbacks, then you don’t have one” is one that comes to mind with Tennessee’s front five.
The running back and receiver group showed much improvement against BYU. Running backs Ty Chandler and Eric Gray provided major spark to an offense that failed to execute many big plays. The running backs accounted for 231 of Tennessee’s 339 total yards. With a struggling quarterback, the backs will be heavily relied on as the season continues. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano has been scrutinized over recent weeks for failing to live up to expectations. He has been inconsistent with his defensive reads and has failed to find open receivers while throwing into covered targets. For Tennessee to avoid the iceberg, Guarantano must learn from the past two weeks. Chattanooga provides the perfect opportunity for him to gain back his confidence and find a rapport with his highly talented receiving group against a defense that allowed nearly 350 passing yards against Jacksonville State. Regardless of the score, the coaching staff must find a way to give backups JT Shrout and Brian Maurer playing time this Saturday. Should Guarantano show more regression, Saturday could very well be the beginning to a new leader under center for the Vols.
Related Article: Tennessee’s All-Time Offense (click here to view article)
Defense Must Continue to Improve
The defense had a much better showing against BYU than Georgia State. Freshman Henry To’oto’o continues to impress and grow as a leader for the Tennessee defense. Fellow freshman Warren Burrell was picked apart by the Georgia State offense but that was not the case against BYU. Burrell and the Vols’ secondary allowed under 160 passing yards prior to the final 20 seconds of regulation and overtime, a much-improved statistic from the prior week.
Senior Darrell Taylor must rise to the occasion as well. Taylor recorded a sack early in the first quarter against BYU but struggled to get to the quarterback late. Tennessee will continue to face quality offenses in coming weeks, Chattanooga will give the defense a prime opportunity to correct mistakes and prepare for their SEC opponents. Look for the Volunteer defense to shut down a Moc offense that has averaged just 22 points this season.
Related Article: Tennessee’s All-Time Defense (click here to view article)
Coaches Must Prepare Players
Week one was a disaster for Tennessee’s entire coaching staff, especially Jeremy Pruitt. Many called for the head coach’s job following the opening loss. However, coaches showed much more energy and leadership during the battle against BYU. Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney called a solid game in the first half as Tennessee reached the red zone multiple times. However, once Guarantano’s struggles started, it was obvious that Chaney’s confidence in his quarterback wavered as well. The play-calling became very predictable as Tennessee relied heavily on the run game. Tennessee’s red-zone offense failed to result in touchdowns on too many drives. Tennessee came away with four field goals and two turnovers on downs inside of BYU’s 30-yard line.
Players did seem much more prepared in week two. The defense lined up correctly for most of the night and players seemed to read offenses much quicker than in the previous week. However, Alontae Taylor’s game-changing mishap on BYU’s final drive in regulation was inexcusable. Yes, Taylor is young but a coverage mistake in that situation should not happen. Coaches must do a better job of ensuring the younger players understand the situation and their roles on every play. Mistakes of that magnitude can not continue to happen. Not against Chattanooga and especially not against conference opponents.
Tennessee 38, Chattanooga 9
Odds: Tennessee (-28)
Look for Tennessee to cover the spread but not by much. Covering a 28-point spread will not be easy with a struggling offense. A big day from their running backs and an improved Guarantano will be the difference.
Offense: Chandler and Gray rush for 100+ yards each.
Defense: Records 5 sacks and holds Chattanooga to zero touchdowns.