Final Thoughts From The Box: Kentucky Thrashes Vols, Sends Tennessee to 2-2
Tennessee was absolutely blasted by Kentucky in Neyland Stadium for the first time in my lifetime. Few fans were left as I started to type these thoughts out with seven minutes left in the game. It was an ugly day, and I generally try to find some positives in my takeaways, but it is going to be hard to do so today.
I know it seems like I am preaching to the choir today, but Jarrett Guarantano was arguably the worst that I have seen him as a Vol. He struggled in more ways than he has in past performances. He doesn't tend to force decisions, despite other mistakes, which has been one of his saving graces. Today, he forced throws time and time again, and he never looked comfortable. The Vols are now 2-2 on the season, and it doesn't get any easier. I am no mind reader, but something has to give on that front. Tennessee cannot continue to lose games in the same fashion.
Jeremy Pruitt is in year three as a head coach, and he will obviously face questions following this loss. Tennessee fans simply do not accept losing to Kentucky, especially in Neyland Stadium. The first question for Pruitt has to be about the quarterback position. What are the plans for the Vols moving forward at the position? Harrison Bailey was limited in sample size, but can he keep defenses honest enough to make Tennessee's offense effective. I would not expect a considerable move before the bye week following Alabama, but Pruitt is going to face that question many times between now and then.
Let's get away from the obvious points.
Quavaris Crouch played some of his best football this season. Crouch was a thumper, and he had a career day with 11 total tackles.
Henry To'o To'o continues to do it all for the Vols. He had another 8 tackles performance with multiple TFL's and a sack. He is going to be an all-conference and all-american player before he is done here. I am not sure there is a player on this team that means more to the Vols than he does. He makes things click defensively.
I tend to shy away from criticism on the playcalling front, but I was surprised by some of the combinations that Jim Chaney dialed up. I am not defending Jarrett Guarantano because he missed some opportunites, but I felt like Chaney did not help him very much. Tennessee's route combinations were questionable to say the least. If you are going to continue to work vertically, I feel like you have to get Jalin Hyatt more involve, and work Malachi Wideman in more settings like today. He made a nice contested catch, and he can be a weapon to at least hold a safety over the top. He has to get better off the line of scrimmage, but he is a threat into the boundary and the redzone.
If you have followed us for long, you know how much time I have invested into the coverage of Harrison Bailey. I was glad to see Harrison get an opportunity, especially given the off-season he has faced. Is he ready to lead this team? It was tough to judge today. His natural talent is a given, but when you miss the time he has, it is tough to overcome from a mental preparation standpoint. As I suggested above, look for the Vols to attempt to sustain to the Bye Week, and work him in marginally until that point.
Tennessee's struggles to defend the middle of the field have to be maddening to Jeremy Pruitt. The Vols have had zero success there this year, and it will surely be exploited by Alabama, whose balanced attack will keep the Vols guessing all night.
Aaron Beasley made a nice special teams play, and with Jeremy Banks likely to miss time, he will have to become a factor for the Vols.
Offensively, Eric Gray continues to be special. He is going to have a target on his back the rest of the year, unless Tennessee can find some balance. He rushed for over 100 yards once again, and he remains an asset out of the backfield in the passing game.
Elswhere, Tennessee has to have some guys get back from injury. Jerome Carvin played today at times, while Jahmir Johnson was a non-factor. Tennessee will likely be without Wanya Morris for a while, which will require some shuffling up front. It seems likely Cade Mays will start at left tackle next week against Alabama.