College football is creeping ever closer to the main stage, which means it’s time to start dissecting West Virginia’s first opponent of the 2018 season: the Tennessee Volunteers.
In what will be a two-part series covering both sides of the ball, we open with the Vols’ offense.
If you’re a frequent visitor to the site, you’ll find we’ve already touched on the quarterback situation in Knoxville. The assumption is redshirt sophomore Jarrett Guarantano will eventually be named the starter after throwing for 997 yards and four touchdowns in nine appearances in 2017. The former 4-star recruit was dismal at times last year but most of that can be blamed on poor offensive line play and Gurantano not having a compete understanding of the Tennessee playbook. What he does have, however, is an elite arm and a proven play-caller in new offensive coordinator Tyson Helton. Helton served as the pass game coordinator and quarterbacks coach the past two seasons at Southern California where he guided Sam Darnold to over 7,000 passing yards and 57 touchdowns. Now that Helton has the reigns of the Tennessee offense, expect Guarantano to become more of a traditional pro-style quarterback. During the Vol’s spring game, Guarantano excelled from under center, passing for 226 yards and two scores.
The Vols will be without their leading rusher from last season in John Kelly but will have former US Army All-American Ty Chandler to carry the rock in 2018. Chandler finished the 2017 season with only 305 yards and two touchdowns as a backup but exploded for 120 yards and both of his scoring runs from last year against Kentucky when he was given starter’s minutes. On that night, we received a glimpse of just what Ty Chandler can do when he’s Tennessee’s feature back. Tennessee will also rely on Michigan State transfer Madre London. At 6’1 and 218 pounds, London figures to be the “power back” perfectly suited for Jeremy Pruitt’s pro-style offense. Like Chandler, London is also a former four-star recruit and racked up 924 yards and eight touchdowns in his three seasons at Michigan State.
Receivers & Tight Ends
Where Will Grier has a multitude of proven receivers to play pitch and catch with, Tennessee will be forced to rely heavily on the duo of Marquez Callaway and Jujuan Jennings. Combined, Jennings and Callaway only tallied 423 yards and five touchdowns last year. Jennings did miss all but the opening game of the 2017 campaign due to a wrist injury, however, but posted 580 yards and seven scores during his sophomore year. The Vols will also turn to junior Brandon Johnson to improve on his numbers from last year. Once Jennings was ruled out for the 2017 season, Johnson assumed the role of Tennessee’s second-leading receiver, posting 482 yards and a touchdown.
Now that Jeremy Pruitt and Tyson Helton have brought with them a pro-style offense, the tight end position is poised to be utilized much more often. Unfortunately, that will have to be accomplished without last season’s leading tight end in Ethan Wolf. Wolf posted 996 yards and seven touchdowns during his career at Tennessee but his little brother, Eli, is primed to carry on what Ethan brought to the Vols’ offense. At 6’4 and 236 pounds, Eli is a tad smaller than his older brother but is a better pass catcher and route runner.
Without debate, the best player for Tennessee resides on the offensive line. As a freshman, former five-star recruit Trey Smith proved to be the only bright spot on what was a dismal showing from the Vols’ offensive line. Smith became the first player in 30 years to start at left tackle for Tennessee as a true freshman in 2017 and was named to the preseason All-SEC team this year. He missed the entirety of spring camp due to blood clots in his lungs but now that he’s been cleared to play, he’ll be a dominant force in the trenches for the Vols. Alongside Smith, Tennessee boasts former four-star guard and West Virginia native Riley Locklear, former five-star tackle Drew Richmond and former four-star center and Alabama transfer Brandon Kennedy.
Stayed tuned for the second part of this series in which we will break down the defensive side of the ball for Tennessee.