Well this week has been something hasn’t it? The fan base is livid after the loss to Kentucky, the coaching staff is giving the same old generic responses while Head Coach Butch Jones is having to respond every five minutes to claims that he knowingly played a player with a concussion.
Tack on some other injuries and the Vols officially have a closer matchup with Southern Miss than they thought going into the season. Let’s take a look.
This is a promise that each week this part is NOT copied and pasted from the prior week. That said, redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano keeps showing glimpses of what he could be if everything was perfect around him. He took another beating from Kentucky, getting sacked seven times including a clean shot from his blind side on a corner blitz. If you go back and rewatch the game against the Wildcats, look at his reactions after every time he is hit. He is either in pain from taking so many hits or is pissed about those hits. Either way, he needs help.
Southern Miss is successfully running what Tennessee said they may do going into the 2017 season: a two quarterback system. Both Keon Howard and Kwadra Griggs will play against the Vols on Saturday. What is interesting about these two players is that they have near identical stats throwing the ball. Howard has 1,099 yards, completing 60% of his passes with eight touchdown and four interceptions. Griggs has 1,010 yards, completing 52% of his passes with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. They both average 7.43 yards per attempt.
The biggest difference between the two is that Howard is slightly better using his legs to create plays. He is the Golden Eagles second leading rusher with 152 yards. Despite all of his talent, until Guarantano gets some help from his wideouts and line, it is hard to give Tennessee the edge here.
EDGE: Southern Miss
John Kelly is officially back, although Jones has said he will have to earn his spot back in the starting lineup following his one game suspension for a drug citation. That honestly might be true after Tennessee fans got a full game of Ty Chandler out running and running over Kentucky defenders. Jones also said he will try to find a way to get both Kelly and Chandler in the game at the same time. Pssssttttt….it is called a split back formation. You’re welcome. Kelly and Chandler average 4.9 yards per carry, which will likely continue considering their abilities to make the first tackler miss and then run over the second.
Ito Smith is the primary ball carrier for the Golden Eagles, racking up 817 yards on 144 carries with a 5.7 yard per carry average. He is also tied with wide receiver Korey Robertson with a team high seven touchdowns. Southern Miss has run the ball more than they have thrown it this season, but look for them to pick on a Tennessee secondary that has been questionable all season.
Wide Receivers vs Defensive Backs
43 catches, 580 yards, 7 touchdowns.
42 catches, 570 yards, 4 touchdowns.
That first stat line is for the Golden Eagles’ Korey Robertson. The second stat line is the combined totals for the Vols’ two leading receivers, Brandon Johnson and Marquez Callaway.
Tennessee’s wide receivers continue to fail at living up the hype around them even though the talent is there. They often times look lost and struggle to get open. Tennessee’s defensive backfield is dinged up and inconsistent, but hopefully defensive coordinator Bob Shoop realizes the primary weapon and calls for double teams on Robertson with safety help over top. This edge is strictly a numbers game.
EDGE: Southern Miss
Offensive Line vs Defensive Line
Brett Kendrick is out and is going through concussion protocol. Marcus Tatum was announced as out and was later seen in a walking boot.
Tennessee’s already shaky offensive line will be going through another change up, this time with freshman Trey Smith moving out to tackle, the position he played in high school. Tennessee fans will be excited to see how he does at tackle as he has been the most consistent player on the line this season while at guard.
Southern Miss does not have a great deal of sacks, but they are spread out amongst several players. As a defense, they have 62 tackles for loss. Southern Miss is going to after this new version of the Tennessee offensive line and try to create some confusion.
Southern Miss is opening holes for Smith to run through, as evident by his 5.7 yards per carry average. Just like the offensive line, Tennessee’s defensive line leaves much to be desired. Darrell Taylor returned against Kentucky, hopefully he’s shaken the dust off. Kongbo is a still a question mark. He’s either being penalized, out of position, or making a great play. Ultimately, this edge is going to overall talent level and hopefully this is the week it all comes together on both sides.
The #EmptyNeyland movement created by frustrated fans has gained steam, with fans even setting their tickets to this weekend’s game on fire. While the fanbase supports the players, it is understandable that they are angry at the coaching staff and the administration that has not made the key change they desire.
Neyland Stadium is typically a massive home field advantage when there are 102,455 people there. But what happens when there are 85,000 or less there? Regardless of the crowd size, Tennessee might be at a disadvantage at home if they struggle early. Fans may just head for the door and find a different way to enjoy their Saturday night.
Southern Miss’ Jay Hopson is coaching for bowl eligibility and an upset over a SEC team. Tennessee’s Butch Jones is coaching for his job. Despite the fan uproar following the recent Volunteer losses, a loss to Southern Miss on Homecoming might start riots in Knoxville. Add that with what has had to be a (self-caused?) distraction all week in answering questions about how Kendrick’s concussion was handled. Jones is known to keep focused on the “outside clutter” despite how many times he says the team has to block it out. Jones’ own mind games do not give him the edge this week.
EDGE: Southern Miss
Last week, this column was summed up by giving the Vegas opening line for the Tennessee-Kentucky gave that had the Wildcats as the favorites. The Vols opened at 7.5 favorites this week. With everything that is going on on Rocky Top right now, it would be easy to give the edge to Southern Miss or even call it a push. A must win situation and overall talent level gives Tennessee the edge though.