By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – October 27, 2019)
Well, the officials attempted to make it ugly and delay it and almost make it unwatchable at times, but the home team wouldn’t allow them to take away a victory. The Tennessee Volunteers came out on top in a game they knew they had to win and were trending towards winning respective to the quality of football they had been playing as of late.
Here are my Big 6 Takeaways from the 20 point win for the Vols against the Gamecocks on Saturday.
CHANGING THE BLUEPRINT
The expectation, especially with Brian Maurer being unavailable, had to be that the Vols would run the football, try to control the clock, and win a physical game. The last two portions were true, but what we didn’t anticipate was the tandem of Jarrett Guarantano and JT Shrout to throw for over 350 yards.
South Carolina’s secondary wasn’t anything special overall, but up front, they were big and talented. The problem was going to be protection one would assume going in, but that didn’t turn out to be nearly as big an issue… or maybe it’s time to…
CREDIT THE OFFENSIVE LINE
They’ve been playing better as of late and are an improved unit from the 2018 team..The Vols averaged 11.7 yards per pass and didn’t turn it over on Saturday against Will Muschamp’s team. By far the most impressive feat of the day had to be taking the Carolina front seven and rendering them toothless.
The Gamecocks had ZERO sacks on Saturday and only one hurry. Kinlaw, who came in with deserved hype, had one tackle in the game, and it wasn’t even a solo tackle. That’s remarkable. Considering the injuries Tennessee sustained during the game, the OL’s performance was immensely important. They were up to the task.
JAUAN JENNINGS IS A GROWN-UP
On the field, 15 is a terror for the opposition. I continue to watch him and think, whatever he might lack tangibly, he makes up for in bushels with his effort, intensity, and fight. I could see him playing on the NFL level and wouldn’t bet against him, even with nothing off-the-charts in measurables.
Nobody in a white jersey could check him on Saturday, which is usually true if the quarterbacks have time to find him down field. He finished with 7 grabs for 174 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 24.9 yards per reception. What else needs to be said. He’s breaking tackles, he’s taking the rock to the house, he’s bowling dudes over, he’s making tough catches on the sidelines.
He’s doing it all.
And the enthusiasm and dog mentality is infectious. He’s going to be one of the more fondly remembered Vols in recent memory.
THAT RUN DEFENSE
Just as the Vols did against Mississippi State two weeks ago, the defense said a cool “nope” to the South Carolina ground game. Feaster did some damage, rushing 19 times for 80 yards, but the Gamecocks overall due to sacks and TFL ended the game carrying it 30 times for 78 yards.
The Gamecocks inability to run the ball led to short drives and a plethora of punts, particularly in the second half. Carolina was a brutal 4-18 on third down in the game and held the football for just 25:32.
BITULI CONTINUES GETTING HEALTHIER
Not just to single him out, because several guys on this defense had stellar days, with Darrell Taylor at the top of the list and a major step in the right direction for Nigel Warrior. But Bituli wasn’t healthy to start the season, and this football team is markedly different when he’s feeling CLOSER to right than wrong.
15 tackles on the day against South Carolina, plus a blocked punt and a recovery in the end zone for the touchdown that sealed it. He was a monster all day long, flying across the field and just popping Gamecocks players time after time after time. He’s a tremendous player and is so much fun to watch.
Jeremy Pruitt after the game said he wished he had him all year, speaking of what a boon he is to the Vols defense. He’s still not 100%, which should terrify virtually everybody else that has to play against him. Imagine what he could be at full strength.
Good gracious, something has got to be done. This was as poorly officiated a game as you’ll see, and it was so very lopsided against Tennessee. The targeting rule needs to be changed, but Tyler Byrd clearly was hit out of bounds, late and dirty, and no review…after dinging UT earlier for a much less egregious version. A missed facemask was a big deal, missed PI calls, and bad spots.
And then, there were the South Carolina “touchdowns” that all came on the one drive. Ridiculous. They took the guy responsible for those calls and moved him to the other side of the field in the second half and HE was the one that ruled JT Shrout short on the keeper down the right side. Banner day. Greg Sankey needs more than a carefully worded statement that says nothing. There’s no defense of how atrocious this crew was.
They should not do another game this season.
Said it for weeks, you can read it in my last two Takeaways articles, THIS was the turning point game one way or the other. With the remaining schedule, Tennessee beats South Carolina and they have a real shot at making a bowl despite starting 1-3 and sitting at 2-5 24 hours ago. They’ve done it. Now they have a flailing Missouri team in a few weeks in the toughest remaining game, UAB next week, UK, and Vanderbilt. They could easily go 4-0, but SHOULD go 3-1, and if they do… that’s six wins.
This one was huge and it was the best Vols performance across the board in years. It’s the first time they’ve put up this many points against an SEC opponent since they beat Missouri in 2016. This was a big day for the Vols. I was there. 87K fans were louder than I’ve ever heard them, and now let’s see what this win means for attendance for the rest of the season.
Still have to work and get better and keep winning, but this team has turned a corner, or it sure feels like it. THIS team wouldn’t lose to Georgia State or BYU, but that’s all just hypothetical. They already did. They can now only control what’s in front of them, beginning with UAB for Homecoming.