Let’s hold off on judging the Tennessee Volunteers’ football program till the result of the Vanderbilt game. Head Coach Butch Jones has been chanting brick by brick like a mantra this season, but has it actually paid off?
The turbulence of this season has put a pause on judgment. Yes, the Vols defeated No. 11 South Carolina earlier this season and came close against Georgia. But do those games, plus the other three wins, overshadow several blowouts this season? The Vols need to defeat a very strong, equally talented, and more disciplined Vanderbilt team to move in the right direction.
The leadership and coaching of Vanderbilt has made them a force to be reckoned with after defeating Georgia and Florida for the first time in the same season. Tennessee lost both the Florida and Georgia games earlier this season. If Tennessee can win and work their way to a bowl game, this season will be considered a success.
In order to defeat Vanderbilt, Tennessee must win the turnover battle. They cannot make mistakes on special teams. While the special teams has been relatively consistent and maybe the best part of Tennessee football all season, the mistakes stacked up against Auburn two weeks ago.
On offense, Tennessee must allow freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs to ease in and get comfortable by starting out with short inside passes as that is his strong suit. The Vols cannot drop passes: especially touchdown passes. They just can’t. In addition, the arguably strongest offensive line talent wise in the SEC needs to live up to those words. They will also need to have a stronger performance from running backs Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane to take the pressure off Dobbs.
The Vols need to score in the red-zone: Touchdowns not field goals. In the last four games, the Vols have only scored touchdowns in the red zone 44 percent of the time, while in the same time frame, Vanderbilt has scored touchdowns about 70 percent of the time.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Vols need to contain Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews. This point cannot be reiterated enough. Matthews has set several school and SEC records and his talent is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
While the Vols have been one of the slowest teams in the SEC this season, they cannot let the cold weather slow them down even more. The Vols need inspired play. Regardless of where that comes from: the smokey gray uniforms, the Neyland atmosphere or just more dedication, inspiration and discipline.
If the Vols win, they will be one step closer to a relatively decent season. A loss would all but negate the progress Jones has made this season with the Vols program. A win against a ranked South Carolina team means nothing if the Vols cannot beat Vanderbilt at home on senior night.