KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano will be making the first road start of his career against No. 1-ranked Alabama, the three-time defending SEC champions.
Vols offensive coordinator Larry Scott said the message for Guarantano this week is “team,” in the sense that Tennessee’s players and coaches will have his back.
“He needs to understand he’s not going down there to play Alabama by himself,” Scott said Monday night. “Rely on your teammates, rely on the rest of us, rely on your coaches. We’re in this together, we’re going to have his back, and he’ll do the things we need him to do in the system for all of us to have success.
“So it’s not, ‘Jarrett, you have to play,’ it’s ‘Tennessee and the Tennessee offense and this whole team has to go play.”
And the Vols will have to play well as a group Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium (3:30 p.m. ET; TV: CBS).
The Crimson Tide is a 34-point favorite, and many believe it should be more when one recalls how Alabama routed Tennessee 49-10 in Neyland Stadium last season.
Guarantano showed some upside in the 15-9 loss to South Carolina last Saturday, driving the team from its own 25-yard line to the Gamecocks’ 2-yard line in the closing minute, falling just short of a storybook finish.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones was impressed enough to make it clear that Tennessee’s plan is to adjust the offense to Guarantano.
“We’ll continue to evolve, and it’s all about playing to his strengths,” Jones said Monday. “The other thing you have to be cognizant of is not to give him too much. We want his ability to take over, we don’t want his mind to tie up his feet. We want him to have the ability to go out and play freely.”
- Tennessee has seen this defense before. Larry Scott said the Tide’s scheme is very similar to Georgia’s, where former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is the head coach.
- The Vols are getting back tight end Jakob Johnson, one of the keys to their run game. Johnson is arguably the best open-field blocker on the team and brings double tight-end sets into play.
- This is Alabama’s eighth-straight game without a bye. The Tide is arguably the deepest team in the nation, but its players are surely ready for a weekend off before returning to action Nov. 4 against LSU.
- DT Kahlil McKenzie says the Vols are taking an approach to “go 1-0 every week,” focused solely on Alabama while blocking out potential distractions.
- South Carolina’s second-half adjustment was to bring backside pressure on Guarantano, and it worked. Alabama figures to bring pressure in similar fashion and play press coverage on the Vols’ young receivers.
- Tennessee hasn’t made any announcement on suspended defensive end Darrell Taylor or injured backup Deandre Johnson. That’s not a good sign either will return, leaving the Vols very thin at the position.
- Alabama has the No. 7 rushing attack in the nation, while Tennessee is No. 122 defending run. That suggests the Tide will own time of possession and put the Vols’ defense on the field for long stretches.
- Explosive kick-return man Evan Berry returned to practice Monday, but Jones said he’s not sure if Berry will play. The Tide is 22nd in the nation in kick return defense (17.48 yards per return).
- The Vols are changing up their offensive line again, likely moving Brett Kendrick back outside to tackle to account for what figures to be a multitude of blitzes.
- Guarantano has a gunslinger mentality, so will he have the discipline to throw the ball away to avoid sacks rather than force passes into a defense that ranks No. 5 in the nation with 10 interceptions?
- John Kelly is known for breaking tackles and gaining yards after contact, but can he continue that trend against a defense as physical as Alabama’s?
Tennessee coordinators press conference Monday
Tennessee coordinators discuss upcoming Alabama game
Posted by Tennessee Volunteers Insiders on Monday, October 16, 2017