By Jimmy Hyams
After Tennessee’s 0-2 start, the narrative of many fans and media was to bench players recruited by former coach Butch Jones.
Go with a youth movement, some said.
Prepare for the future.
The problem with that argument – then and now – is that the Butch Boys are among the best players on the team, and it would make no sense to send them down the depth chart just because they are upperclassmen.
In Tennessee’s 41-21 victory over South Carolina, the best Vols on the field were recruited by Jones.
Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano played his best game of the season, going 11 of 19 for 229 yards and two touchdowns.
Wide receiver Jauan Jennings had seven catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns, and he’s the unquestioned leader of the team. He was named the SEC co-offensive player of the week.
Receiver Marquez Callaway had a 65-yard punt return and three catches for 102 yards and a score. He leads the nation in punt returns with a 21.8 average. He is also third among active players in punt returns with a 14.9 average.
Linebacker Daniel Bituli had 15 tackles (11 solo) and blocked a punt which he recovered for a touchdown. He was named the SEC co-defensive player of the week.
Outside linebacker/defensive end Darrell Taylor had two sacks, two pass breakups, four total tackles.
Safety Nigel Warrior had 10 tackles (six solo) and he’s played four solid games in a row, performing like the four-star recruit he was four years ago.
Guard Trey Smith continues to excel after a slow start. He has grown accustomed to a practice routine that puts him on blood thinners for days after a game, takes him off several days before a game and limits his contact in practice. In fact, he hardly practices at all as UT has adjusted its Thursday workouts to accommodate Smith.
Running back Ty Chandler had 78 yards on 16 carries.
Without those eight players, Tennessee doesn’t beat South Carolina.
Without those players, the Vols wouldn’t be in position to close strong so it can maintain or add to a recruiting class that currently ranks among the nation’s top 20.
Benching Butch’s Boys in September would have been foolish.
That’s been proven many times this year.
And it was never more evident than in the win over South Carolina.