It’s been rocky for sure. The last decade for the Tennessee Volunteer football program has had more peaks and valleys than the Great Smoky Mountains, and you have felt every bump along the way. Lane, Derek, and Butch have had a time fumbling a once storied program and now Jeremy is here to (hopefully) save the day. We are approaching week three of the two thousand and eighteen regular season and for the first time in a very long time, I watched the Volunteers play a game like they should. I had nails left on my fingers after the game cause I didn’t spend four quarters, and a weather delay, chewing them off. The Vols played efficient, discipline, and entertaining football. Jarrett Guarantano continues to impress with his ability to move in the pocket and make accurate passes. Darrin Kirkland Jr. had a pick six, which if you were in attendance at Neyland got you some free Chick-Fil-A at the surrounding Knoxville locations. It was a fun day to be a Volunteer. Fans came out in droves for the home opener and at the beginning of the game, the stadium was at what looked to be at around ninety percent capacity. However, there are still concerns that linger for the Big Orange.
After one of the strangest off-seasons in College Football history, the Vols are getting more and more time to improve on the field. For the first half of the week one game with the West Virginia Mountaineers, I was very much optimistic for the outcome, but as we all saw – a preseason Heisman QB showed out making a strong case for him against a young secondary. Week two we saw the Vols come out slow but made the necessary adjustments during the weather delay and we saw all three phases of the team have success. But as Coach Pruitt has made clear, “there are still so many places for us to improve,” which is something that has to be a top priority for the Volunteers. As a “Vol For Life” I know there is still a timidity and reluctance to fully immerse yourself and believe in what Pruitt and Co. are building at Tennessee due to the past being so rocky. There are players who have come to Tennessee and are playing as expected and there are others who I am convinced have disappeared. Trey Smith, who is in my opinion and others, the best player on the team (and arguably the SEC East), is still having to bounce back from a scary off season dealing with blood clots, but the guy is holding his own, but I still want to see what he does against top tier talent, and not ESTU, UTEP, or even WVU. One major concern for me is the defense and the lack of run defense and pass rush. I know we are lacking the necessary size to dominate the line of scrimmage but it’s a major red flag when our prized recruit, Jonathan Kongbo, has a better chance of being seen on a milk carton as a missing person, than as a productive defender on the field. I know that Kongbo is not a Jeremy Pruitt recruit, and having changed positions in the off season he may be settling into his new place still; but where on earth were you during the ETSU game? As the country’s top JUCO defensive end, I would expect you to dominate against a team that is still less than five years into their program. Kongbo was quoted as saying prior to the start of the season, “I feel like a football player again.” Well frankly, you don’t look like one. I wonder what kind of production Rudy Reuttiger would have if he have the size, weight, and athletic ability that you have. Now, all that to say, I am the captain of the Kongbo fan club and I am hoping he can adjust and improve, but let’s not lose sight that you’re in your final year with the Big Orange, and I am sure you want to have a chance to make an NFL roster at some point.
Now, on the other side of the ball, there are plenty of good things to see. We are working with two Quarterbacks who have shown glimpses of their ability to produce with three receivers having over fifty yards each against ETSU. Our running game has looked stout with Tim Jordan and Jeremy Banks rushing for over fifty yards each, and Madre London running for forty seven and two scores, and that doesn’t even include what Ty Chandler brings to the table – who is still recovering from a concussion that he sustained in week one. With all that said, there is still a lack of involvement with two key players that I believe were brought in to show out this year. Tyson Helton, who is the brother of Clay Helton of USC, has his work cut out for him, but I believe that he has the tools to show off a great offense. It’s another concern that you have two guys, like Dominic Wood-Anderson and Jauan Jennings, but you’re not using them like they should be. One issue I have with Helton, and if I could ask him one thing I’d ask him – “are they going to be improvements and updates to this offense?” Again, I am impressed with the production of the running game, and the passing game has shown flashes but this is two thousand eighteen. I am pretty sure I’ve seen some of these same plays on highlight from when Jim Brown was playing for Cleveland. In an age where the run-pass-option, spread offense, and other west coast variations are growing more and more popular, I think we could use a slight update. The main reason I say that is when a team like Georgia and Alabama, who are practically cut from the same cloth defensively, line up and shut it down, I want to see if the coaches can adjust and make any progress. I am not sure if they are wanting Guarantano, who has the ability to run like Josh Dobbs did, to be more balanced in his attack, but if it were me, I would throw in the occasional read option play for him to show his full tool kit.
All in all, the Tennessee Football program is coming out of some dark days, and I am interested to see if we can make the consistent improvements to show a light at the end of the tunnel. As always, Go Big Orange!
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