#56 Tennessee 2018 Football Preview

Tennessee Volunteers
Overall Rank: #56
#9 SEC
 Tennessee Logo
Tennessee hit rock bottom in 2017 as they went winless in SEC play and quite frankly were very fortunate to win four games. Consequently, there is a new head coach in Knoxville as Jeremy Pruitt takes over for the embattled Butch Jones, who was let go late in the 2017 season. Pruitt was the defensive coordinator at Alabama and is expected to install more of a physical ground attack on offense along with an aggressive defensive approach. The coaching search was a circus to say the least, but credit Volunteer fans for the passion when they loudly objected to the Greg Schiano contract offer to be the head coach. Schiano would have been a horrendous fit at Tennessee and that more than anything else outweighs his past issues at previous head coaching stops.
2017 Record: 4-8, 0-8
2017 Bowl: None
Coach: Jeremy Pruitt (0-0 at Tennessee, 0-0 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Tyson Helton
Defensive Coordinator: Chris Rumph, Kevin Sherrer
Returning Leaders:
Rushing:  Ty Chandler, RB, 305 yards
Passing: Jarrett Guarantano, QB, 997 yards
Receiving: Brandon Johnson, WR, 482 yards
Tackles: Daniel Bituli, ILB, 90
Sacks: Darrell Taylor, OLB, 3.0
Interceptions: Two players with 1 each
Other Key Returnees: LT Trey Smith, WR Marquez Callaway, WR Brandon Johnson, OT Drew Richmond, DE Jonathan Kongbo, ILB Quart’e Sapp, SS Nigel Warrior, FS Micah Abernathy, DT Shy Tuttle, DE Kyle Phillips
Key Losses: RB John Kelly, DB Rashaan Gaulden, OL Khalil McKenzie, TE Ethan Wolf, DL Kendal Vickers, KR/PR Evan Berry
There is nowhere to go but up for Tennessee on the offensive side of the football. Graduate transfer quarterback Keller Chryst comes over from Stanford and fits what Pruitt is looking for offensively, at least in year one. Chryst won 11 games as a starter at Stanford and can take the care of the ball without putting the Volunteers into too much trouble. Ty Chandler is back at running back and is the early frontrunner to earn the role of the number one running back this season. Incoming freshman Jeremy Banks will be part of a rotation behind Chandler that will compete for playing time right away. Wide receiver is a position group that has some work to do in 2018. Jajuan Jennings, Marquez Callaway, and Brandon Johnson have enough talent to produce in the SEC at an above average level. The question is will this trio of receivers stay healthy all season long and make enough big explosive plays in the passing game. Offensive line is another concern. There is a ton of inexperience and that is another reason why you can expect to see a very conservative approach by the Volunteers.
Stopping the run was a huge problem for the Volunteers in 2017 as they surrendered over 250 yards per game on the ground. If you are an opposing offensive coordinator with Tennessee on your schedule this season there is very little reason to throw more than 20-25 passes against them. Shy Tuttle will look to plug up the middle at defensive tackle, while Jonathan Kongbo and Kyle Phillips will be out on the edge. Daniel Bituli is the leading returning tackler with 90 and will be back at inside linebacker. Darrell Taylor and Quart’e Sapp should be able to solidify the linebacker group as they have plenty of experience. Micah Abernathy and Nigel Warrior are two rock solid safeties that will need to carry the secondary in 2018. Todd Kelly Jr. is going to be another player to keep an eye in the safety rotation as he is returning from a knee injury.
The Bottom Line:
West Virginia will be the season opener for Tennessee down in Charlotte and Coach Pruitt will find out right away where his defense stands after dealing with Will Grier and David Sills. East Tennessee and UTEP will come to Knoxville in what should be two wins for Tennessee. After that its going to be tough sledding until November as the Volunteers play Florida, Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, and South Carolina over the course of a six week stretch. The month of November is forgiving as they don’t have to leave the state while finishing with three of four games at home. Look for an up and down first season for Tennessee, but they will find a way to scratch out six wins.
Projected Bowl: Texas Bowl
2017 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 117.4 (113th in nation, 13th in Conference)
Passing Offense: 173.7 (109, 13)
Total Offense: 291.1 (125, 14)
Scoring Offense: 19.8 (118, 14)
Rushing Defense: 251.3 (126, 14)
Pass Defense: 161.7 (3, 1)
Total Defense: 412.9 (84, 10)
Scoring Defense: 29.1 (83, 9)
Turnover Margin: -0.25 (88, 10)
Sacks:  1.83 (89, 13)
Sacks Allowed: 2.92 (113, 12)

Madness 2018 Recruit Rankings:
#48 J.J. Peterson
#76 Alontae Taylor
#120 Greg Emerson