Tennessee’s football team has a 2-0 record after opening the season against Georgia Tech and Indiana State.
The above fact no doubt qualifies as a positive. The Vols were close – very close – to losing their opening game against Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
There are reasons for Tennessee fans to feel positive, the unbeaten record being most notable. There are also reasons for fans to be concerned before Tennessee plays its SEC opener at Florida on Saturday.
So what stands out about the good and bad of Tennessee’s football team after two games? Here are three positives and three concerns for the Vols following UT’s 42-7 win over Indiana State.
1. Tennessee has playmakers
Wide receiver Marquez Callaway had Tennessee fans buzzing following the Georgia Tech game. His catch-and-run touchdown against Indiana State was a reminder that he needs the ball more often. Running backs John Kelly, Carlin Fils-aime and Ty Chandler (see his kickoff return on Saturday) have given coaches reasons to game plan for them as well. And on defense, Rashaan Gaulden might have saved the game with his forced fumble in the fourth quarter against Georgia Tech. The Vols’ defense has the athletes to make plays, too.
2. Special teams
Everything isn’t perfect, and placekicker Aaron Medley still needs to show he can knock home a field goal in a big spot. But the Vols have several returners who can change the momentum of a game, and punter Trevor Daniel is one of the best at his position in the nation. Coach Butch Jones continues to do a good job preparing his special teams units. (As long as they avoid silly penalties.)
3. Shy Tuttle is back
Tennessee’s defensive line will not hold up playing the number of snaps it did against Georgia Tech. That’s why Tuttle, who has suffered season-ending injuries each of the last two years, is so important. His return on Saturday is a good sign for his progress; he was able to play throughout the game for the first time since last October. Other defensive linemen need to step up, but Tuttle’s return was a must for Tennessee’s defense.
1. Tennessee’s defensive line
Tuttle’s return does not eliminate all of the concerns on the defensive line. The Vols still need someone else (Alexis Johnson?) to emerge at defensive tackle, and a fourth defensive end would help the outside rotation. Tennessee hoped to play younger linemen more often against Indiana State, but players like freshmen Matthew Butler and Deandre Johnson only saw limited action in the second half. Tennessee will need more players up front to be ready soon.
2. Tennessee’s quarterback play
Everything could work out fine, but there are still questions at the position and with the offense overall. Dormady has made plays – that 93-yard drive in the fourth quarter against Georgia Tech was big – but he’s also made mistakes. The interception he threw in the end zone against Indiana State can’t happen in SEC games. Will Jarrett Guarantano continue to be a part of the equation? That’s a question Dormady will ultimately have to answer.
3. Tennessee’s health
The Vols have already had to play without several key players. Offensive tackle Chance Hall and linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. have been lost for the season, and No. 1 receiver Jauan Jennings might be, too. Other players, including kick returner Evan Berry, receivers Tyler Byrd and Josh Smith and linebacker Austin Smith, are dealing with injuries that have affected the team’s depth. There’s a reason Tennessee has parked the Ice Up truck outside the practice facility.