Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
2019 record: 8-5, 5-3 in the conference which was good enough for a respectable 3rd place in the SEC East.
Head Coach: Phil Fulmer aka Jeremy Pruitt (3rd year, 13-12 or 0.520 overall). Jeremy was Phil Fulmer’s choice for Head Coach in a coaching search that resulted in the firing of the AD John Currie in favor of Phil and six months later to the ouster of Chancellor Beverly Davenport. Pruitt was hired a short 25 days after UT sent Lyle “Butch” Jones packing.
Home Stadium: Neyland Stadium (capacity: 102,455)
Alumnus of Note: Saxby Chambliss, Albert Gore, Sr. and Scopes Trial Attorney John R. Neal Jr.
Before we get into the meat of our discussion, I bring you a little musical interlude regarding my feelings on the predominate color in Knoxville in the Fall.
Now on to our opponent. This marks the third installment of the Jeremy Pruitt experiment in Knoxville. In his first season, the Volunteers went 2-6 in the conference. Last year they started out going 2 – 5 in the first half of the season, including repeat losses to Florida, Georgia & Alabama. They did buck up and beat Miss State, SCAR, Kentucky, Missouri & Vanderbilt which was pretty much all their theoretically lesser in-conference opponents. But after you lose to Georgia State and BYU in the first two weeks, there isn’t much hope left for the season. I suspect the six straight wins in the second half of the season probably saved Pruitt’s job.
The Volunteers return NJ native & Redshirt Senior Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. He is apparently on the Johnny Unitas Gold Arm Award Watch List per UT official Twitter. While he started 2019 on the Maxwell Award Watch list, he was terribly inconsistent last year. From his 2019 stats: 59.1% Pass completion with 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Over his three years he’s averaged a 60.9%, 32 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Total passing yards is 5,062 for all years with 7.9 yards per attempt. In Rushing, he’s gone negative 79 yards. Last year was his only year with positive rushing yards of 54. Arguments could be made that some of his troubles are truly the responsibility of the offensive line of course. But the last three years of Offense at UT have been fairly offensive indeed.
Our friends at Rocky Top Talk provide some good preseason details on the status of things in Knoxville. Jeremy Pruitt’s first signing class is now entering their Junior Year which should provide good depth of knowledge.
On the plus side for Volunteer nation, our old friend Jim Chaney has a new group of receivers to experiment with. Chaney claims they are “very talented” and will “go fast”. He admits they may go fast in the wrong direction, however. Seems like a bit of a problem but it’s really only the players after the #1 & 2 spots that belong to Seniors Josh Palmer & Brandon Johnson. Josh was the #2 Receiver last year with 34 catches for 457 yards averaging 13.4 yards per play and bringing in 1 touch down. He wasn’t the most prolific on the team behind Jauan Jennings in catches and both Jauan and Marquez Callaway in TD’s, both of whom are out of eligibility. Brandon’s production has been limited during his time. He has a total of 60 catches for 738 yards and 1 touchdown. In both the 2016 and 2019 campaigns he only played in 3 games.
On the line, Senior Trey Smith is the expected anchor. He’s a preseason first team All-American this year. They are returning five starters which would normally bode well but see the prior discussion on the Quarterback performance these last few years.
Honestly, while their offense may be improved, I suspect they still have a long way to go.
Speaking of Defense….
Perhaps the best news for UT and the worst news for the Bulldogs is the defense. They’ve kept nearly the entire defense losing only safety Nigel Warrior, Darrell Taylor and Daniel Bituli from last year. This is the same defense that didn’t allow more than 22 points in any of the second half of last season.
Inside Linebacker Henry To’o has the task of leading the defensive group after last years 72 tackles. The loss of Darrell Taylor will be a big hit. His personal production of 16.5 sacks in the last two seasons will be difficult to replace. 2018 Freshman All-American Bryce Thompson is returning and looks to be the next man up to help replace Taylor’s production.
On the Coaching side…
The roster of coaching staff has some of very familiar names on it beyond Jeremy Pruitt. Among the list of formerly Georgia Affiliated Coaches are Brian Niedermeyer (Inside Linebackers), Will Friend (Offensive line), and Jim Chaney.
New this year are Co-DC Jimmy Brumbaugh, most recently Colorado’s Defensive Line Coach under Mel Tucker and Running Backs Coach/UT Alum Jay Graham formerly the RB coach at Texas A&M among others.
The good news for Tennessee Fans is the coaching staff stayed relatively stable this year. The bad news is there are four former Bulldog coaches. Given the cash flow in the Classic City, if we wanted to keep those four, we certainly had the means to do so.
The Bottom Line
Athlon Sports thinks the offense is “poised to improve…with a fortified offensive line.” Ultimately, they predicted a national ranking of 26 and consider it a step forward. That was of course prior to the impacts of the virus. On the other hand, Fansided predicts an eventual 4-6 season this year with the only wins against Missouri, Arkansas, Auburn and Vandy. Honestly, I’m not sold on that Auburn pick but they’re calling it a tossup. As far as the Arkansas win, I’m not sold there either. Sam “Yessssssssiiiiiirrrrrrrrr” Pittman, National Treasure, may be new in Fayetteville, but I wouldn’t bet against him.
College Football news figures on 5.5 wins out of a 10 game season.
For me, there are not enough improvements in the changes to the Volunteer team since last season. Given that UT lost to Vanderbilt en route to a 2-6 record in the conference and missing bowl eligibility by 1 game, it’s hard to believe the Volunteers should give the Bulldogs much difficulty.
They’ve got to come to Athens and play what may be the best defense in all of college football. While our offense is still a bit unknown, I expect it will be a significant improvement over last year’s offering. I don’t think the Volunteers will be leaving our Classic City on a happy note.
Prediction: Georgia 50, Tennessee 7. (Last year I predicted 50-21 Georgia & the final result was 43-13, not bad.)