2018 SEC Season Preview: Tennessee Volunteers
Over the course of the next several weeks, the SoBros Network crew will be going team-by-team through the SEC, previewing the 2018 American tackle football season. Up next, the Tennessee Volunteers!
2018 Tennessee Preview
I’m a Jeremy Pruitt guy. I feel like I need to lead with that because so many of my predictions for UT this year goes back to me believing in Pruitt. It all goes back to the MTV show Two-A-Days which was about powerhouse high school football Hoover High down in Alabama. I loved how Pruitt carried himself as a person/coach and have followed his career ever since. All that said, I was pretty excited about his hiring at UT. After the Derek Dooley and Butch Jones years, the Vols needed someone to come in and change the culture right away. With his pedigree, there is belief that after some seriously disappointing years, UT is back on track in a super crowded SEC field.
Looking at the defense first, the Vols bring back six starters mainly spread out across the linebacker corps. Word is Jonathan Kongbo will be playing outside linebacker this year with UT transitioning to a 3-4. Shy Tuttle, Kyle Phillips, and Alexis Johnson could make up the defensive line that will be looking to make major improvements from last year. The move to the 3-4 also opens things up for Darrell Taylor who will join Kongbo as the two outside backers. Taylor had three sacks last year, but will be looking to get those numbers up in Pruitt’s aggressive defensive scheme.
On the inside, Quart’e Sapp and Daniel Bituli will be looking to shore things up with Darrin Kirkland, Jr. getting snaps as well. The linebacking unit is gonna be leaned on heavily with as much talent as they have. Will they be able to answer said call is the question. The Vols are also solid at safety with Nigel Warrior, Micah Abernathy and Todd Kelly, Jr. all returning and bringing playmaking ability. The real question mark comes at the cornerback spot. No returning starters at the position is a bummer especially since Pruitt has gone on record saying he plans on playing press coverage. Baylen Buchanan, Shawn Shamburger, Marquill Osborne and Maleik Gray will all see playing time. But, no one has really stood out as the guy yet. That needs to change ASAP.
I don’t think anyone knows what to make of the Vols offense mainly because we’re not 100% sure who is going to be behind center.
It seems that Jarrett Guarantano is the guy right now, but transfer Keller Chryst may fit this offensive scheme a little better. Guarantano didn’t wow anyone last season, but his playmaking upside has to be in the back of everyone’s minds. Chryst transfers in from Stanford where he went 11-2 as a starter, which can’t be just brushed off. At running back, UT has a stable of backs led by the dynamic Ty Chandler. The Vols could use four or five backs throughout the season as they have a log jam at the position behind Chandler.
Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings make up a hell of a one-two receiving punch. With Callaway’s speed and Jennings’ all around ability, the right guy under center could take advantage. Brandon Johnson led the Vols in receiving last year with Jennings injured so look for him to try and use some of the field opened up by Jennings return. All of this will mean nothing if their inexperienced offensive line can’t hold up. Thankfully, Trey Smith has been cleared to play after his future was in doubt due to health reasons. Aside from Trey, there really isn’t a lot to be said for this line that will include a lot of sophomores. With defenses like UGA, Bama and Auburn on the schedule, this is a serious concern y’all.
2018 Vols Schedule
Saturday, 9/1: vs. West Virginia*- Call me crazy, but I think UT COULD make this one interesting. If Pruitt has the defense playing like a legit Pruitt defense, along with Keller Chryst (or Guarantano) playing his tail off, not turning the ball over and getting some big boy plays from Callaway/Jennings, the J-Pru campaign could start off with a bang. The West Virginia defense (like most Big 12 defenses) doesn’t scare me, but I don’t have a ton of faith in the UT offense. Give me WVU.
Saturday, 9/8: vs. ETSU- No matter the outcome of Week 1, Neyland Stadium will be rocking for J-Pru’s first home game. I’d love to pick my alma mater in the upset, but this should be a runaway win for the Vols.
Saturday, 9/15: vs. UTEP- Back to back wins for the Vols with those hated Gators coming into town next week.
Saturday, 9/22: vs. Florida- Jeremy Pruitt vs. Dan Mullen Round 1! The difference could come down to which team has the quarterback spot figured out.
Saturday, 9/29: @ Georgia- Super tough road game and a big talent mismatch has me picking the Dawgs.
Saturday, 10/6 – Bye Week
Saturday, 10/13: @ Auburn- The hits keep on coming with a road trip to Jordan-Hare. War Eagle and such.
Saturday, 10/20: vs. Alabama- Love the storylines with Pruitt’s Bama roots, but it’s Ala-freaking-bama. Whether it’s Hurts or Tagovailoa, I’m saying Roll Tide.
Saturday, 10/27: @ South Carolina- After UGA, Auburn and Bama, the Vols get Jake Bentley…not optimal.
Saturday, 11/3: vs. Charlotte- A much needed win (and chance to breathe) heading into THE stretch for the Volunteer bowl push.
Saturday, 11/10: vs. Kentucky- Vols at home slow Benny Snell down just enough to get the win.
Saturday, 11/17: vs. Missouri- The return of Derek Dooley!!!! Dooley is hoping to have this Missouri offense locked and loaded this year, which wouldn’t be a huge shocker thanks to all the returning talent.
Saturday, 11/24: @ Vanderbilt- Both teams could be leaning on this one to go ‘bowling’ so there’s that. Also, Vandy is on a two game win streak in the series which is fun to say knowing the history here.
With that devilish stretch in October, it’s gonna be hard for UT to get that sixth win to become bowl eligible. I love the energy that Pruitt and his staff has brought to Knoxville, but this roster just doesn’t seem to be there yet. That along with the brutal schedule that lays ahead of them with only ETSU, UTEP and Charlotte as locks, I see the Vols hovering around five wins.
Other 2018 SEC Previews
Alabama Crimson Tide
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Ole Miss Rebels
South Carolina Gamecocks
Texas A&M Aggies
John Mosley is the independent wrestling and TV aficionado of the SoBros Network. He graduated from ETSU with a degree in Radio, TV and Film along with a minor in Film Studies. Since graduating he’s done pretty much nothing but watch, film, edit or commentate for local wrestling promotions and is the current color commentator for Resolute Wrestling. #Preds #Titans #DefendOrVacateConor – Follow on Twitter: @SoBroMose