Although spring football practice is on hold due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19 and the current global pandemic, the Georgia football rosters are still set for the fall. Coming off a 12-2 season, the Bulldogs head into the 2020 season with high expectations. Bulldawg Illustrated is analyzing each opponent in a twelve part series that will continue for the next several weeks.
Last week, we left off with Georgia’s matchup against South Carolina. Following that, the Bulldogs will take on the Tennessee Volunteers on Nov. 14, 2020. Coming off his second season in Knoxville, Volunteers’ head coach Jeremy Pruitt had one of the most improved team’s in the conference from the 2018 season. After starting out the 2019 season 1-4, it didn’t seem like there was any light at the end of the tunnel, but transitioning into his third year, Pruitt’s program will have high expectations going into 2020.
Head Coach: Jeremy Pruitt
2019 Record: 8-5, 5-3 SEC; Beat Indiana in Gator Bowl
Key Returnees: quarterbacks Brian Maurer and Jarrett Guarantano, running back Ty Chandler, wide receivers Brandon Johnson and Josh Palmer, offensive guard Trey Smith, inside linebacker Henry To’o To’o,
Key Losses: wide receivers Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway, tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson, inside linebacker Daniel Bituli, outside linebacker Darrell Taylor, safety Nigel Warrior.
1) Who will start at quarterback?
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Tennessee program going into 2020 is who will be the starting signal caller under center. The Vols have six viable candidates that are going to have to compete for the job, but for right now, Jarrett Guarantano is the clear front-runner. Nonetheless, there are some serious doubts surrounding the fifth-year senior heading into his final season in Knoxville. Last season, we witnessed Guarantano have to battle freshman Brian Maurer, who started in four of the eight games he appeared in.
Guarantano completed 152 of 257 passes for 2,158 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions last season. On the other hand, Maurer completed 35 of 75 passes for 541 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions. The next option behind those two is J.T. Shrout, who played interchangeably with Maurer when Guarantano was hurt. Shrout completed 13 of 27 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. Last season, Shrout was known for his cannon of an arm, but clearly needs to work on his accuracy and game management skills if he wants the job.
Maryland transfer Kasim Hill makes for an interesting choice, and is the second-most experienced quarterback on the roster behind Guarantano. The former Terrapin made several starts for the program in 2017 and ’18, but the results were mixed. Hill brings a lot of experience, but has struggled with accuracy and stability in the past. It will be interesting to see how it plays out, and if he could make a run at climbing the depth chart.
Newcomers Jimmy Holiday and the highly touted Harrison Bailey are the final two quarterbacks listed on Tennessee’s roster. Holiday, who enrolled early in the spring, is a three-star prospect from Mississippi that could garner some buzz heading into fall camp. But it’s also being said that he could get some reps at running back or wide receiver as well. Because of his versatility and the talent above him, Holiday might not be best suited at the quarterback position. Meanwhile, the expectations for Bailey to be the next great Vols’ SEC quarterback have already been set. The five-star pro-style quarterback out of Marietta (GA) has the tools to be great, but only time will tell about him.
2) A refurbished coaching staff
Heading into 2020, the Vols will have some new faces on the sidelines, alongside some familiar ones taking on new roles. The good news is that Jim Chaney and Derrick Ansley will be back in their respective roles, which marks the first time since 2014 that both coordinators will return.
On the defensive side, former Colorado staff member Jimmy Brumbaugh will take over as the defensive line coach. Brian Niedermeyer will transition from being the tight ends coach to inside linebackers coach, and former quality control analyst Shelton Felton returns to head up the outside linebackers. Felton spent the last season holding that same position at Akron.
On the offensive side, Jay Graham returns to Tennessee to coach the running backs. Joe Osovet, who had an off-the-field role, will now takeover for Niedermeyer coaching the tight ends. Osovet’s promotion was one that came to no surprise and was thought of as well deserved. Like any other team, it will be interesting to see how Tennessee’s staff will adjust to these unprecedented times.
3) Replacing two productive receivers
Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway were two of the best receivers in the conference last season, and Tennessee will to have replace them going into 2020. The duo combined for 89 receptions, 1,604 yards, and 14 touchdowns last season. It’s going to be quite the task to replace that much production. An upside in this is that the Vols do have a lot of talent returning at the position. The downside is that many of these young players are untested, and the current situation doesn’t bode well for them.
Rising seniors Josh Palmer and Brandon Johnson are the most experienced out the group that returns. Palmer will probably the primary target because of the role he played in 2019, where he hauled in 34 passes for 437 yards and a score. And while he does have the numbers to prove his worth, his lack of consistency over the last three years leaves some room for questions. The same thing can be said about Johnson, who didn’t exactly have the numbers he wanted in 2019. In 2017, Johnson led the team in receiving yards with 582 yards and tied for the team-high of 37 receptions.
Rising sophomore Ramel Keyton is a player who could have a breakout season after flashing his big-play abilities last fall. As a freshman, Keyton averaged 26 yards per catch. Former Georgia defensive back Deangelo Gibbs should get reps on both sides of the ball come spring. He could battle Keyton for that third spot on the depth chart.
Rounding out the other top contenders include Cedric Tillman and USC graduate transfer Velus Jones Jr. Tillman recorded four receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown in 2019, but hopes to make a bigger impact this upcoming season. Jones is solid, but more than likely will be slotted as a returner on special teams because of his explosiveness. The Vols are awaiting several signees to make it to campus to really heat up the competition at wide receiver. Newcomers Malachi Wideman, Jalin Hyatt, Jimmy Calloway, and Dee Beckwith are all guys that could see playing time in 2020.
4) Turnover on defense
The good thing is that Tennessee returns most of its starters on defense from last season, but the negative is that there are some big holes to fill after a few key departures. The defense loses inside linebacker Daniel Bituli, outside linebacker Darrell Taylor, and safety Nigel Warrior. Bituli (88) and Warrior (70) finished first and third in total tackles on the team, respectively. Taylor led the team in tackles for loss (10.0) and sacks (8.5).
Stepping in for Bituli will be rising sophomore Henry To’o To’o, who had a breakout freshman campaign at inside linebacker. The two dominated at the position last season, but now Bituli’s absence leaves an opening. Unfortunately, the Vols are stretched incredibly thin at the inside linebacker position, but there are a few names who could fill the void. J.J. Peterson, Solon Page III, and Aaron Beasley will be the top three candidates with Peterson leading the way. A name that has drawn some attention in the offseason is Quavaris Crouch, and could climb the depth chart if he can stay healthy. Incoming freshman Bryson Eason and Martavius French could push the envelop as well.
Taylor’s pass-rushing abilities will be greatly missed, but Kivon Bennett, Deandre Johnson, and Roman Harrison all three players who have shown some promise as outside edge-rushers. Although, incoming freshman Tyler Baron and Morven Joseph could battle for that vacancy as well.
In the secondary, replacing an All-SEC safety like Warrior will be a tall task. Warrior finished his final season in Knoxville recording 70 total tackles, four interceptions (tied for first in the SEC) and nine pass breakups. That being said, the Vols return some promising players who could take his spot atop the depth chart. Even though there is a significant drop-off, the top contender for the job is Trevon Flowers. Flowers appeared in six games last year recording 17 total tackles and one interception. Behind him, are Jaylen McCullough, Theo Jackson, and Keshawn Lawrence.
5) Does Tennessee have depth on the offensive line?
For the past few seasons, one of the biggest question marks surrounding the Tennessee football program has been the depth on the offensive line. Fortunately, that isn’t the case heading into the fall as the Vols actually might have one of the better groups heading into the season.
All-SEC guard Trey Smith leads the way and gives the program a ton of confidence. The addition of former Georgia Bulldog Cade Mays is another big boost, granted his eligibility this season is approved by the NCAA. Add rising sophomores Wayna Morris and Darnell Wright to the mix, and the Vols will return four former five-stars to the offensive line in 2020. Starting center Brandon Kennedy was granted a sixth year of eligibility, and returns a ton of experience.
Despite losing Ryan Johnson and Marcus Tatum to the transfer portal, the offensive line still seems to be very deep heading into the fall. Jahmir Johnson, Jerome Carvin, K’Rojhn Calbert, and Riley Locklear are all notable players who have starting experience. Younger players like Chris Akporoghene, Jackson Lampley, Ollie Lane, and Cooper Mays also will add extra depth. Then, incoming freshman Javontez Spraggins and James Robinson will be arriving to campus once this quarantine is lifted.
Early Prediction: Georgia wins 42-17.