So far in the season, Tennessee has looked like a completely different team since last season. Unfortunately, Tennessee dropped a game last Saturday (September 11th) against Pitt at home in gut wrenching fashion. Moving forward these players are going to increase their impact if the Vols are going to look to double their win total from last season and sneak into a bowl game.
Number 5. LB Juwan Mitchell: Coming into this season, Juwan was expected to be the leader of this young and inexperienced linebacker core. However, I think we can all agree he has not played to the same level statically that he had at Texas the year before. His last year at Texas the Junior led the team with 62 tackles (32 solo), which ranked 15th in the Big 12. He also so recorded 4.5 tackles for loss, one quarterback hurry, one pass breakup and one fumble recovery. No question about it the talent is there, but the Vols are going to need him to step up in a big way if they are going to compete in SEC ball this fall.
Number 4. WR Jimmy Calloway: Let’s face it, this young receiving core has not been able to gain chemistry with the QB whatsoever. Now, to be fair, Joe Milton lll has been extremely inaccurate on his deep balls all season for the Vols and has struggled mightily on throws of 30 yards or more. Calloway has been a bright spot on this team in the short passing game this season when he’s had the opportunity with the football. Calloway’s first touch of 2021 to the house on a 44-yard sprint late in the second quarter against Pitt. Calloway has shown he has elite speed and can make guys miss in the open field. It now comes down to the simple fact of getting him the football.
Number 3. LB Tyler Baron: No doubt on of the best pass rusher Tennessee has coming off the edge so far in the 2021 season. Baron has been making opposing QBs’ lives a living nightmare as well as impacting the run game heavily. The sophomore edge rusher has Had four tackles and a career high 2.5 TFLs against Pitt (9/11) … Made his first-career start in season-opening win vs. Bowling Green (9/2), finishing with two tackles, one sack, one QBH and one PBU. As Tennessee heads into SEC play, they will be counting on Baron to make an impact up front.
Number 2. RB Tiyon Evans: Plain and simple, Tiyon Evans has been the heart and soul of this Tennessee offense leading up to this point. Although missing the Pitt game, community college transfer Tiyon Evans as shown that he belongs in the SEC. Evans so far has only appeared in one game, but man did he shine. The young back finished with 120 yards on just 16 carries, one of those carries being a 19-yard touchdown sprint during the third quarter of Tennessee’s opener against Bowling Green. However, I think his impact is more realized in the game he missed. During the Pitt game, we saw the rushing attack for the vols sputter multiple drives away. After Jabari Small went out of the game with injury, and Tiyon out with COVID related issues. Freshman running back Jaylen Wright assumed all running back duties for Tennessee and it got ugly. Wright rushed just 15 yards on 11 carries and just could not get it going on the ground. This game shows just how important Evans is to this offense. Evans will look to get back on track and get ready for SEC ball.
Number 1. QB Hendon Hooker/ Joe Milton lll: Look, it is no secret that Head Coach Josh Heupel does not believe Harrison Bailey is ready to lead this volunteer offense regardless of fans opinions. There is still a QB controversy going on in Knoxville once more however. (Don’t worry Jarrett Guarantano can’t win this one.) Joe Milton lll started both games for the Vols and looked the part at times but repeatedly has struggled with the deep ball. Struggled is putting it nicely too. Milton did however show his ability to make plays with his legs and extend plays. Then, comes his Virginia Tech transfer counterpart, Hendon Hooker. Hooker has shown his raw athletic talent in his short playing time on Rocky Top. In just one half against Pitt, Hooker went 15-21 for 188 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. Hendon also added 49 yards on the ground. Once again Vol fans get to argue about who is under center. Something we have been doing since Josh Dobbs finished his career in the 2016-17 season. This time it’s different though. I understand disagreeing with Jeremy Pruitt about QB considering if it wasn’t JG, it was nobody, but Josh Heupel has a long list of elite quarterbacks he has developed in his coaching career. If the Vols are going to find offensive consistency, they will need to find their starter and fast. A trip to Gainesville is just a week away.
Clearly the Heupel era has started a bit rocky, but if he can go steal a couple games and send the Vols bowling for the first time since 2019. The fanbase will be on his side going into the 2022 season.