As Tennessee returns home to move forward in the 2017 season, it should do so with relative ease Saturday as the Vols host winless UMass.
I acknowledge that the Minutemen have been competitive in their four losses, but the fact is they haven't won. UMass is averaging just 22.8 points a game and are surrendering nearly 31 points a game.
Tennessee should handle business and have an opportunity to continue to develop the depth of the team. Bob Shoop's defense will be tested in the backend and it's also an opportunity to grow their pass rush.
Obviously, the offense must take care of the football and they must be improved in the redzone.
Tennessee 41 UMASS 17
The talk about the Florida game will continue and likely be a big topic if the Gators were to lose to Kentucky on Saturday. For Tennessee, it's put it behind you and move on to UMass the best you can. It's a pick yourself up and dust yourself off game. The coaches will have the chance to get some younger players like Cheyenne LaBruzza, Shawn Shamburger, Will Ignont and others involved.
Offensively, John Kelly will get some run Saturday, but you just can't afford to get him to much run. In a perfect world, he hits about 80 yards somewhere in the 2nd quarter and you have him take off the pads. Quinten Dormady has the keys to the car and he likely needs to take the offense for a good spin on Saturday. He can't afford to struggle again next week so he needs some quality reps. So where does that leave Jarrett Guarantano? I'll have to see it to believe it when it comes to him getting a solid amount of playing time. Butch Jones appears to be riding with Dormady, and I'm not sure anything he has said makes you think the will change.
Defensively, Quart'e Sapp will get all kinds of action on Saturday. They need him to be really good going forward with the lack of playmakers at linebacker. That's also where Ignont fits in with his ability to move and change the game with his athleticism. In theory, both Theo Jackson and LaBruzza see plenty of time against a UMass team that likes to throw it. The Vols will have plenty of opportunities to get to the quarterback with that mindset. We will see what kind of pass rush they can accumulate and how many times they can get to the quarterback.
Tennessee 45 UMass 10
On the heels of last weekend’s gut-wrenching loss at Florida, Saturday is the perfect ‘Drano’ game for Tennessee. The Vols can still salvage their season despite falling to 0-1 in the SEC, but they have to flush their latest frustrating performance and make some real strides against UMass.
Tennessee must find itself Saturday. The Vols are going to win. UMass is bad. The only question is how will the Vols play? With rivals Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama upcoming, Tennessee can’t let one loss linger or else the season will truly unravel. The Vols have to use the tuneup to build some confidence at quarterback, cornerback and defensive end. Find Quinten Dormady some comfortable throws. Get Jarrett Guarantano involved. And challenge your defense — specifically the pass rusher and corners — to make some plays against an offense that likes to throw the football but can’t actually protect the passer.
The Minutemen are 0-4, but quarterback Andrew Ford can make some plays. Justin Martin, Emmanuel Moseley & Co. need to prove they can limit an offense with a few weapons. Jonathan Kongbo, Darrell Taylor and Kyle Phillips must show they can dominate an abysmal offensive line (UMass has allowed a nation’s worst 23 sacks this year).
Finally, Saturday is the perfect opportunity to gauge which youngsters can help you the rest of the season. Play Daniel Bituli and Quart’e Sapp a lot so that they can build chemistry together. Get the young running backs involved early and figure out the wideout rotation.
Ultimately, Tennessee won't quite cover the 28-point spread, but I expect another ho-hum performance with some positives to takeaway.
Tennessee 45, UMass 17
Some may disagree, but I think this is a great spot for this type of game rather than jumping right back into the SEC fray after last week’s heartbreaker in Gainesville.
Quinten Dormady needs to find a rhythm if the Vols are going to ride him all the way this season and this UMass defense seems set-up as a perfect confidence builder for a struggling quarterback.
On the ground, Tennessee should just about be able to name the amount of total yardage they want to shoot for and John Kelly should be able to enjoy a light work load.
I look for the Vols to generate some big plays on sheer speed alone out on the perimeter.
Defensively, to me this game is all about getting quality reps for young guys who need them, specifically Daniel Bituli and Quart'e Sapp. This should be a great experience for them outside the pressure cooker of an SEC contest.
Ironically, the one area where UMass looks competent, the passing game, is the one area where this defense needs the most work. Tennessee’s secondary needs to improve and they’ll be tested by an offense that can move the ball through the air if nothing else.
I have a hard time seeing a lot of drama unfolding in this one, though, it won’t surprise me UMass is able to put up some points. It will surprise me if Tennessee isn’t able to put up a bunch.
Tennessee 51, UMASS 21