Tennessee hasn’t won a game this season since their last non-conference game in Neyland Stadium when they survived an ugly 17-13 contest with UMass.
That UMass team is significantly worse than the Southern Miss team Tennessee faces this Saturday. And that might pose a big problem for the Vols on homecoming.
Southern Miss has a stout defense and a more than capable offense. Tennessee’s offensive line is woefully thin right now with two more starters, Brett Kendrick and Marcus Tatum, expected out and Drew Richmond still questionable. Trey Smith is being moved to left tackle, and some redshirt and true freshmen may have to play in this game.
Against a Southern Miss defense with 62 tackles for loss and 17 sacks, that isn’t a sign for offensive success.
John Kelly will be back for the Vols, and Tennessee’s defense should be able to contain most of the big plays Southern Miss is capable of making on offense. But the Golden Eagles are one of the better Group of Five teams the Vols have played over the last few years.
Tennessee is definitely more than capable of winning this game, but they haven’t won a game in over month. I’m not picking them to do so till they actually get back in the win column.
Pick: Southern Miss 23-20
MVP: John Kelly, RB
I don’t think Southern Miss will have any one player stand out as an MVP for them, but I do think Tennessee will see John Kelly come back with a vengeance. Southern Miss has a good defense, and Tennessee’s offensive line is a mess. But John Kelly is a stud, and he and Ty Chandler should be able to find some room to run.
This game isn’t going to be pretty. I think that Tennessee will get a lead early and then allow the Eagles to creep back into it. This is going to be a lot like the UMass game.
The Vols offense should be able to take a step forward. But the defense will be challenged by a tricky Southern Miss offense. The Eagles will play multiple quarterbacks and run a lot of outside runs to test the Vols’ perimeter defense.
That’s been a major weakness for Tennessee under Bob Shoop. I think this game goes down to the final possession, but this time the Vols are finally able to get things done.
Pick: Tennessee 28-24
MVP: John Kelly, RB
Kelly will be welcomed back with open arms. While Ty Chandler did some great things last week, this backfield is much more dangerous when there’s room for both Kelly and Chandler. And I think Tennessee will use them a lot together in the backfield at the same time. That will open up lanes for Kelly in the running and passing game. He’s the reason why I think Tennessee gets the win on Saturday.
Southern Miss started off the season on a positive note, taking Kentucky the distance before losing by just a touchdown. The Golden Eagles have played solid football since, going 5-2 since with wins over Southern U, LA-Monroe, UTSA, UTEP and Louisiana Tech. However, Southern Miss is coming off a 30-12 loss to UAB, a football program who was just reinstated by its university.
The Golden Eagles rank 26th in total defense and should present a challenge for the Vols offense on Saturday night. Southern Miss has racked up 17 sacks this season, and with injuries mounting along the offensive line, the Golden Eagles will apply pressure on Jarrett Guarantano.
The good news for Tennessee is that John Kelly returns from suspension this weekend. After big performances against Kentucky last Saturday from Ty Chandler and Carlin Fils-aime, Southern Miss will have its hands full stopping the Vols backfield.
Southern Miss will keep things close throughout the game, but Tennessee will pull away with a late score.
Pick: Tennessee 34-20
MVP: Jarrett Guarantano, QB
If there has been one positive amidst the drama surrounding the Tennessee football program, it’s been the play of Guarantano. When given the opportunity, the redshirt freshman out of New Jersey has been really efficient throwing the football.
Through six games this season, Guarantano has connected on 50-of-81 passes this season for a respectable 61.7 completion percentage. Those 50 completions have led to 473 yards through the air. Though Guarantano has thrown just one touchdown this season, he’s only thrown one interception as well.
Guarantano will have the opportunity to make plays against Southern Miss if the offensive line can protect him and if the wide receivers can get open. The good news is that this isn’t an Alabama defense he’s facing. Guarantano will have a big game on Saturday night and pick up his first win as the starting quarterback of the University of Tennessee.