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Q&A with Rocky Top Talk: Who has it worse?

After a disappointing opening game, BYU fans were surprised to see their next opponent have an even worse start to the season. The entire season for each team hangs in the balance of this week 2 match-up.

NCAA Football: Georgia State at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

After a rough loss against Utah to open the season, BYU fans were feeling pretty down. After wallowing in our own self-misery for two days, lots of us (myself included) watched the Tennessee-Georgia State game to get a look at our next opponent. The entire nation was surprised when Tennessee could not pull it off. The Volunteers’ season is already at a precarious position. I spoke with Terry Lambert from Rocky Top Talk to see what their expectations are for this critical Week 2 match-up and also give BYU fans a quick primer on their Saturday prime-time opponent.

VTF: What was the most positive thing you learned from the team after the first game?

Rocky Top: Um, well. There weren’t a lot of examples to choose from! Tennessee legitimately got whipped on both sides of the ball against a Sun Belt team that went 2-10 in 2018.

There were a couple of standout performances — freshman running back Eric Gray and senior receiver Jauan Jennings, for example — but this is a burn the tape situation. Quite honestly, the biggest positive from this game may be the wake up call that it provided. Tennessee came out flat last Saturday. There wasn’t any energy on the sidelines — zero sense of urgency. It was a bizarre way to start the season, considering the perceived trajectory of the program heading into the season. This team was supposed to take a few steps forward in 2019. It started by taking a massive step backwards. Are they awake now? If they aren’t, they never will be.

VTF: Which individual on defense does BYU need to be aware of on every play and what makes him so dynamic?

Rocky Top: Without question, it’s Darrell Taylor. No. 19 coming off the edge is Tennessee’s only game-wrecker defensively. He racked up three sacks against Georgia and four sacks against Kentucky last year, powering the Tennessee defense almost single-handedly. He’s a legitimate NFL prospect that just needs a little more consistency to him. Taylor should have Wilson on the run on Saturday night — the only problem for Tennessee is that they’ve got nothing behind him in terms of pass rush. That makes Taylor one of the most important players on the entire roster.

VTF: After a week one loss, what changes are you expecting to see from Tennessee’s offense? Who are the skill players that need to be more involved?

Rocky Top: I’m expecting this staff to settle on an offensive line combination. They rotated and played ten guys up front last week, which was a big topic of conversation throughout camp. I’m expecting them to settle on six or seven guys in order to create some sort of chemistry. Tennessee wants to run the football at will, but they haven’t been able to do that in years — they won’t be able to until they find the right combination up front.

Ty Chandler was thought of as the main option in the rushing attack heading into the year. After two fumbles in the first half against Georgia State, he essentially was benched for the rest of the game. Chandler is another home-run hitter in this offense, bringing more straight-line speed to the table. He’s got to do his part and hang on to the ball, but Jim Chaney should be working to get him in space as much as he can.

VTF: Coach Pruitt compared BYU’s quarterback Zach Wilson to Johnny Manziel. What is Tennessee’s best chance of slowing him down and negating his big play ability?

Rocky Top: I think it’s their athleticism at the linebacker position. Tennessee might get back senior linebacker Daniel Bituli (knee procedure), which would be a massive help after that embarrassing effort against Georgia State. Freshman Henry To’oto’o brings a ton of speed to the table, along with freshman Quavaris Crouch. Those three players should have plenty of responsibility for containing Wilson this weekend.

One thing to note, however, Tennessee was gashed time and time again by Georgia State’s mobile quarterback Dan Ellington. They had no answer for him, so containing Wilson is my main key to the ballgame.

VTF: What is the biggest indicator that UT’s offense is clicking?

Rocky Top: Another great question that we honestly don’t know that answer to.

Tennessee has ranked in the bottom ten in total offense for two consecutive seasons — hence the Jim Chaney hire. It really feels like Tennessee wants to be a run-first offense like Chaney had at Georgia, but they just don’t have the personnel to go beat people up in the trenches right now. Still, they’re going to try. If Tennessee is controlling the line of scrimmage and getting consistent push in the run game, that’s probably bad news for BYU. Problem is, they haven’t been able to do that for years. That’s where games typically get placed on quarterback Jarrett Guarantano’s shoulders. To this point, he hasn’t been able to elevate the offense around him, especially with protection issues in front of him.

It’s Chaney’s second game calling plays, so Tennessee doesn’t really have an established identity just yet. I’m not really expecting them to find one until this young offensive line grows up a bit.

VTF: This will be the first game alcohol is sold at Neyland Stadium. How quickly will it sell out?

Rocky Top: Could you imagine if they had it last week? What a way to introduce beer to Neyland Stadium that would have been. The answer to this question goes back to the top of this post. Is Tennessee awake now? If they come out sleep walking, things will turn ugly quick.

It’s really unfortunate, the timing of that first loss. Tennessee had some quiet momentum to them. Nobody was talking about them nationally, but they were recruiting really well — notching some wins over Georgia and Alabama on the trail. Pruitt and his all-star staff simply had to put out a decent product on the field to keep that momentum going. Now that’s all gone, and plenty of fans have already checked out. It’s tough to blame them after the last decade.

I wish you guys were going to get the best Neyland experience possible, but that’s just not going to happen. There were 85,000 (of a possible 102,000) at the Georgia State loss. There should be about that there for a good prime-time non-conference match-up. But the wind has been taken out of everyone’s sails before we even hit week two. Confidence is at an all time low. Tennessee fans are just numb at this point. If they lose this game, there might not be anyone there to buy any beer next week against Chattanooga.

VTF: From your perspective as a Tennessee fan, what is your prediction for the game?

Rocky Top: My goodness, what a question. I’m not sure anyone really knows what to expect after last week. Before that game, I thought Tennessee would come out on top of this one by a touchdown or so. But after seeing how Tennessee’s now incredibly young defense performed, I have no confidence. Tennessee couldn’t even get lined up correctly. Even when they did, they were routinely gashed. Like I asked before — was that a wake up call? Or is this team just really bad?

While they could absolutely bounce back and win this game, I’m going to say that they can’t iron out their problems in a week, especially against a bigger and stronger team than Georgia State was.

BYU 27, Tennessee 20