A View from Tennessee: Q&A with FanSided’s All For Tennessee

Sep 24, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA; General view of the Tennessee Volunteers running through the T before the game against the Florida Gators at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA; General view of the Tennessee Volunteers running through the T before the game against the Florida Gators at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports /

Editor Caleb Calhoun of FanSided’s All For Tennessee answered some questions we had about the Volunteers and the game this Saturday.

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How does it feel for Tennessee to be back in the national conversation after the drought of the past several years?

The feeling is nice for Vols fans everywhere. After such a drop-off dating back to 2008, fans got hit with a major dose of reality and learned to appreciate winning again. For many, Florida was the final hump to get over. But they are trying to balance the euphoria of finally ending the losing streak to Florida with what comes next.

If they lose to Georgia this week, they’re right back to playing catch-up in the SEC East, where they were last year. So there is cautious optimism everywhere. Tennessee fans are hoping that the players didn’t celebrate the Florida win as much as they did. You’ll probably see even more excitement next week if the Vols win because that will have them playing with house money with two huge games against Texas A&M and Alabama.

Tennessee looks to be the team to beat in the East after their big win over Florida. However, the Vols have not put a full game together. How scary can this team be when they play to their full potential?

You saw on full display in the second half against the Florida Gators just how dangerous this team is. They didn’t change their offensive play-calling from the first half; they just started executing better. In the process, they reeled off 35 points. They scored a touchdown on four straight drives and didn’t allow a first down on six straight drives on defense. The Vols showed flashes of this last year, as Georgia fans painfully remember.

Going into this year, however, the team’s mentality has been the exact opposite. They come into games relaxed and expecting to win, which makes for the slow start but allows them to keep their confidence late. Last year, they came in hoping to win, making for a fast start but causing them to panic when things went awry. In fact, last year’s Georgia game is considered by almost everybody to be the turning point in the team’s mentality.

If they play a full game with the right mentality, they can beat anybody in the country. Remember, ever since Joshua Dobbs became the full-time starter in 2014, they haven’t lost to any team by more than one score.

We all know about how good Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd are, but who are the other impact players to watch on the UT offense?

The biggest impact player for the Vols on offense this year has been Josh Malone at wide receiver. He has five touchdowns in four games already, and three of those touchdowns resulted in lead changes. Jauan Jennings also emerged as a No. 2 wideout last week with over 100 yards and a touchdown. Both receivers have great size and speed.

On top of that, Alvin Kamara can sneak in a big play as the Vols’ all-purpose back at any time. However, you don’t know what game or when that will happen. Ethan Wolf and Jason Croom have been disappointments at tight end so far, but they are both weapons if they play to their full potential. They finally showed some of that last week.

Who are the three impact players to watch on the Volunteers’ defense?

Unfortunately, the Vols are currently down three of their four biggest impact players. Cameron Sutton at cornerback and Darrin Kirkland Jr. at linebacker are both out. Meanwhile, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin is the most important player on the defense and is going to play hurt. So he can’t be as effective.

However, the biggest impact player for the Vols is Derek Barnett on the defensive line. He’s had 10 sacks each of the past two years and had two sacks last week. Also, 19 of his 22 career sacks have come in SEC games, so he saves his best performances for the biggest moments. And if he stays at this pace, he could shatter Reggie White’s career sacks record at Tennessee.

On top of Barnett, Todd Kelly Jr. has emerged as a dangerous playmaker for the Vols at safety, but he has struggled with consistency. So while he’ll make a great play, he can also get burned.

How confident do Tennessee fans feel about their team getting a win this weekend?

Tennessee fans feel like they exercised their final demon of the past decade by getting past the Florida Gators last week. However, they have seen too many things happen to this program to be fully confident about a win this weekend. The Vols haven’t had a 5-0 start since they won the national title in 1998, and they haven’t beaten a ranked team in back-to-back games since 1999.

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Just check the message boards when things go wrong for Tennessee in a game, and they’ll be flooded with immediate calls for Butch Jones’s firing and for the entire first team to be benched. The past has created so much pessimism and caution that even with the Florida win, Vols fans can’t relax.

Now beating Florida AND Georgia on the road could change their mentality quickly. But right now, I would say they are cautiously optimistic about this game.

Final score prediction?

Given that this is Tennessee’s first road game and that they have a tendency to start slow, the Dawgs have a great chance to win this game. After all, the Vols have only turned around their slow starts so far without the difficulty of the crowd cheering against them.

That makes things very difficult and concerning in Knoxville. However, the Vols have one matchup that is just too great to overcome: their defensive line against Georgia’s struggling offensive line.

With a freshman quarterback in Jacob Eason, Derek Barnett and that line are going to get pressure all day. That’s going to be all Tennessee needs to pull away in the second half. Vols win 34-21.