Tennessee will kick off their season tonight at 7:30 ET on the SEC Network against South Carolina. The Vols open the all-conference schedule ranked as the 16th best team in the country, and expectations are somewhat high for Tennessee heading into 2020.
Jeremy Pruitt's team is the deepest its been during his tenure and projects to have one of the best offensive lines in the country, with sophomore sensation Eric Gray running behind them and fifth-year senior Jarrett Guarantano at the quarterback position. Our staff breaks down what it will take for Tennessee to start their season with a win.
Tennessee has an opportunity to make a statement with a night game win over South Carolina to kick off the 2020 season. Offensively, the Vols have to protect the football early in this game. They need to utilize the strength of the team and run behind the offensive line. South Carolina will be prepared, as the coaching staffs are very familiar with each other. Tennessee needs to get Jarrett Guarantano in a rhythm early on, and they can do that by using quick-hitters out of the backfield and utilizing multiple options on the edge. If Guarantano can start the season on the right foot, it will be big for the Vols, not only against South Carolina, but for the duration. Defensively, the Vols lost key pieces in Darrell Taylor, Nigel Warrior, and Daniel Bituli. The Vols will look to replace each by committee. Tennessee has to prevent early season busts, and they need to get to Collin Hill early. Look for Pruitt & Co. to use the deep secondary to create some exotic looks and get Hill out of his comfort zone. Tennessee has a certain advantage with Brent Cimaglia, and they have to finish drives with points, even if it's just three. Up until last season, points have been hard to come by in this series in recent years
Tennessee will start the 2020 season riding a six-game winning streak that began with the South Carolina game last year. The Vols will open up with South Carolina and will have a chance to make a big-time statement. It is hard for anyone to deny the strength of this offense is within the trenches. The Vols could have one of the best offensives lines in the country. Eric Gray, Ty Chandler, and others in the backfield, the run game should be fun to watch. This will help take some pressure off of Jarrett Guarantano as he is planning to take that next step as well. Guarantano also needs early involvement to get his confidence up. On the defensive side, the Vols lost a few guys off last year's squad, with two of the biggest being Darrell Taylor and Daniel Bituli. Those two guys had a lot of production from their given spot. The defense will still have a few leaders who can pick up where Taylor and Bituli left off. It is going to be interesting to see how much "steam" Pruitt and staff put on considering South Carolina will have a new starting quarterback in Collin Hill.
Perhaps the single most important key to the Tennessee at South Carolina game will be if the Tennessee offensive line can impose their will on the South Carolina defensive front. The Vols' line comes into this game with national buzz surrounding them, and they will have to live up to it for Tennessee to be successful. The entire offensive strategy for the Vols relies on being able to count on strong play up front. If the Vols can live up to the hype along the line it will open up holes for their talented running backs, protect Jarrett Guarantano, allow Jim Chaney to call deep shots down the field, and keep the defense fresh by having long, sustained drives on offense. This is going to be a key to the season for the Vols, but in the opener, Tennessee's heralded group up front will have a chance to show what the hype is all about.