By: The All Vol Call in Show Staff
Tennessee is seeking bowl eligibility in first-year head coach Josh Heupel's inaugural season. The Vols have shown flashes of tremendous growth at times this season. Against South Alabama, they will have the opportunity to fine-tune a few things before closing the season out against Vanderbilt next week.
John Dunn (Founder/Managing Editor/Host):
This one is pretty cut-and-dry. Tennessee is just a far better team than South Alabama. I expect the Vols to get a big lead quickly, and elect to play some guys that may not have seen as much field time this season. Tennessee will look to clean up a few minor errors in the next two weeks, as they prepare for a bowl game in Heupel's first season.
The Jaguars have a servicable defense, coming in ranked 17th in the country, however, I expect the Tennessee offense to strike early and often and build a big lead early, inevitably cruising to a sizable victory.
Prediction: Tennessee - 55 | South Alabama - 17
Dallas Bowlin (Senior Staff Writer):
It’s no secret that South Alabama’s defense is not on the same level as Georgia’s defense, but that doesn’t mean that Saturday will be a cake walk for Tennessee. The Jaguars rank 17th in the country for team defense, meaning the Vols will once again be facing up against a pretty stout defense. On the offensive side of the ball though, with former South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley, South Alabama doesn’t make the top 50, meaning Tennessee’s defense which has performed above and beyond expectations should be able to smother the Jaguars.
Georgia may have given South Alabama a solid blue print on slowing down the Tennessee offense, and maybe they are able to cause the Vols some trouble, but the talent differential between the Jaguars and Bulldogs defense is just bluntly not even in the same realm, and that’s no slight to South Alabama, there aren’t many teams in the country that can match up with Georgia, it’s just truth.
Prediction: Tennessee - 31 | South Alabama - 13
Colby Howell (Junior Staff Writer):
Up to this point, we’ve seen two different South Alabama football teams: the one that played Georgia Southern, and the one who played Appalachian State. In the game against Georgia Southern, South Alabama cruised to a 41-14 victory over the Eagles. Former SEC starting quarterback, Jake Bentley, looked poised in post snap reads, got guys in space and proffered the Jags 545 yards of total offense.
Fast forward to Appalachian State. The Jags got hosed; no if, ands or buts about it. App State claimed their turf with a 31-7 victory. Without Jake Bentley starting (MCL injury, leaving him day to day), the Jags turned to Desmond Trotter, the dual threat from Birmingham. At the time he was 5-9 as a starter (not great), yet still had a pretty decent day, all things considered. He finished 21/38 with 221 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions. Trotter received no stars in the 247 composite recruiting rankings.
The loss was not Desmond’s fault by any stretch, nor does it negate any ability or potential he has. The fact is anytime you’re down a starting quarterback, your team has to adjust and things are going to be different. Sometimes, very different. Bentley is a guy that the Jags just couldn't afford to lose. His valuable starting experience from his time at South Carolina is quite useful in a conference like the Sun Belt. If you’ll remember, in 2017, Bentley and the Gamecoks left the Vols devastated with a 15-9 victory that went down to the very last :01 on the clock in Butch Jones’ final season as head coach. Not to mention, he had South Alabama competing against (#22) Louisiana Rajun Cajuns and only lost by two points earlier in this 2021 season. So, all that to say, South Alabama just wasn’t going to be the same team without him.
Ok stats, stats, stats, numbers, history and numbers...what’s the outcome going to be? Well, Tennessee is more than likely going to make a statement out of South Alabama. The Vols have finally reached the end of the 4 week gauntlet in which many critics and coaches believed they far exceeded expectations. Sure, the Vols could’ve hoped to go 2-2 in that stretch, but had to settle for 1-3. Lots of yards, lots of points, lots of chaos and lots of entertainment over that 4 week span. The Vols hung with Alabama for 3.5 quarters but ran out of gas. They could’ve beaten the Ole Miss Rebels at home, but, well most people know how that turned out. And I don't care who you are, anytime you possess the ball for only 13 minutes on the road in the SEC and still put up 45 points and get a win is just explicitly impressive.
While South Alabama is praised highly for their 161th-ranked defense, they haven’t played an offense like the Vols. Even with starting QB Hendon Hooker having a bit of an off day, he still gave #1 Georgia their largest deficit of the season in the very first quarter. Maybe it was only 7 points, but hey, Georgia is just in another stratosphere this season. The Vols are fast. The wide receiver trio in Cedric Tillman, Velus Jones Jr. and Javonte Payton are all tied for first in number of receptions for 30+ yards. A lot of that is credited to stellar quarterback play from Hooker, something the Vols haven’t quite seen since 2016 with Joshua Dobbs.
If the Vols can reestablish a rather stagnant rushing offense to balance out their playbook, it is just not going to be pretty for the Jags. Tiyon Evans is looking to get back in rhythm ever since he got banged up but, on paper, this certainly doesn’t look like a game where the leaders will be needed for long. Tennessee has a lot of studs on both sides of the ball. Whether it’s in the trenches, in the slot, in the back field, or on the corner, they have their guys. Their biggest issue is the lack of depth behind those studs, which I believe is what ultimately lead to them being 5-5, as opposed to (and yes, I mean it) 10-2.
This should be an easy one for the Vols. In order to create the most havoc, there has to be pressure on Desmond Trotter. Force him out of the pocket and into space to make a bad pass. Contain the pocket and force pressure up the middle. Put a big, fat, red stop sign in the trenches. Whatever they do, make sure he can’t go anywhere. One of the Vols weakest points of defense is containing the quarterback, which is ironic considering how dominant they are in Tackles for Loss. Through the four week gauntlet, the Vols have allowed 122 1st downs, averaging 30.5 1st downs per game. That’s not good. So the biggest challenge is over. Now they can loosen up, finish strong and have fun.
Prediction: Tennessee - 55 | South Alabama - 13
William Allen (Senior Staff Writer):
Quarterback Jake Bentley’s status is up in the air after suffering a knee injury versus Troy on November 6th. Bentley has been limited in practice this week. If he can’t go, Desmond Trotter will get the nod. No matter which quarterback is starting, wide receiver Jalen Tolbert has big numbers with 65 catches for 1,140 yards and six touchdowns. Both teams are 5-5 and Tennessee is wounded after suffering a big loss to Georgia at home 41-17. Vols wide receiver Cedric Tillman had 200 yards receiving and a touchdown versus the best defense in the nation. With two games remaining on the schedule, Tennessee is looking to go bowling after going 3-7 last season. Josh Heupel has turned around a looming Tennessee football program and has them believing they can win championships.
Prediction: Tennessee - 52 | South Alabama - 13
Joe Davis (Junior Staff Writer):
The Vols are looking for win number-six and bowl eligibility, and this should get them there. While the Jaguars have the same record as Tennessee, these are not similar teams. Hendon Hooker will have a bounce back game from the two turnovers last week. Look for over 300 yards passing and multiple touchdowns. The Vols will roll and become bowl eligible.
Prediction: Tennessee - 49 | South Alabama - 17
Dylan Saylor (Junior Staff Writer):
Tennessee being a 28-point favorite is almost criminal with South Alabama’s key defensive back more than likely not playing. I don’t expect to see much action or any from injured players like Tyion Evan’s and Jevonta Peyton, which won’t be needed anyway. This game should be a offensive firework show for the last night game in Neyland Stadium for the season.
Prediction: Tennessee - 50 | South Alabama - 17
Zac Strickland (Senior Staff Writer):
It’s important to finish strong, and though the worst is now behind the Vols, there is work left to be done. A win here clinches a bowl berth in Coach Heupel’s first year, which is a huge success given the circumstances. South Alabama is a team that has started games slow all year, so between that and Tennessee’s penchant for fast starts, we’ll see if the Vols can jump out to a big lead early. Former South Carolina QB Jake Bentley has been the starter for the Jaguars, but may not play due to injury. It sounds like the Vols will be without Tiyon Evans once again, and possibly Javonta Payton as well, who injured his wrist in the Georgia loss. Because of depth issues, expect the starters to “load manage” and play lighter minutes in the second half if the circumstances permit. This may lead to a final score that looks unimpressive, but the win will never be in doubt.
Prediction: Tennessee - 48 | South Alabama - 21