Tennessee football: 5 things the Vols must do to upset No. 17 West Virginia
If Jeremy Pruitt were 100 percent honest, he’d likely rather not play No. 17 West Virginia on Saturday. A cupcake at home would be much more palatable than playing a ranked team with a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback.
Well, sometimes to you have to play the hand that’s dealt. Pruitt, who is entering his first season as a head coach, will have to do so in Charlotte on Saturday.
Here are five things Pruitt and the Vols have to do to upset the Mountaineers:
1. Limit West Virginia’s possessions
Time of possession is overrated. Countless teams would rather have the ball more often than just hold onto it. Welcome to the age of up-tempo offenses. The Vols can’t get caught up in that type of track meet with West Virginia. The Vols will have to play old-school football, which means running the football and keeping it away from the Mountaineers.
The Vols’ chances improve dramatically if they can control the clock to keep the Mountaineers’ offense off the field and out of rhythm. If the Vols can’t keep the score low, they have little chance of winning.
2. Press and press some more
Pruitt is a master of playing multiple defensive coverages. However, this might well be a case where he needs to lean on man press coverage. The Vols have to throw off the timing of West Virginia’s receivers to make things harder on quarterback Will Grier. If the Vols don’t disrupt the Mountaineers’ passing game, then it will be a long day.
Preseason All-American receiver David Sills deserves the most attention on the line of scrimmage. Do the Vols have someone who can control the 6-4 player alone or will they have to give Sills extra attention?
3. Win the turnover battle
You could say this about any game, but it’s absolutely mandatory that the Vols win the turnover battle Saturday. That seems very feasible. West Virginia’s offense is aggressive and uses a lot of ball movement. That type of attack can be loose with ball security. Also, West Virginia’s players could find themselves forcing things if they struggle early. This is their chance to shine against an SEC program — albeit a struggling one.
West Virginia’s defense is nothing to fear. It seems unlikely that unit will force many turnovers, but the Vols can’t give it up.
4. Outfox the hair
Those with knowledge of Pruitt and West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen and his wild hairdo have told me that Holgorsen has a good offensive mind while Pruitt is much more respected among his peers when it comes to designing a game plan. Look for the Vols to use multiple stunts, twists and blitzes up front to keep Grier off balance.
While I think the Vols should press West Virginia on short and middle down-and-distances, UT can be more creative on third-and-longs. That could be worth an interception.
5. Make at least one play on special teams
Like his mentor, Nick Saban, Pruitt has decided to use many of UT’s starters on special teams. Let’s see if that pays off. Being so outmatched, the Vols need a punt or kick return to flip field position or a blocked kick or punt to help set up a score.
The Vols absolutely cannot give up a big play to West Virginia via special teams. Keeping up with West Virginia’s scoring on offense will be tough enough.
Prediction: West Virginia 45, Tennessee 24