6. Tennessee inside linebackers vs. the run
Against the West Virginia Mountaineers, Tennessee football wasn’t tested that heavily against the run. That’s because WVU was so dominant in the passing game that they didn’t need to utilize it. After all, Will Grier threw for five touchdowns and over 400 yards.
In this game, though, ETSU’s dominance comes from balance with a heavy focus on running the ball. We all remember Randy Sanders in Knoxville. He’s always been about the balanced attack, and that isn’t changing with him being the head coach now in Johnson City.
Last week, ETSU gained 238 yards on the ground and averaged nearly seven yards an attempt. They had an amazing ground game that will be difficult for anybody to stop. Meanwhile, although the Vols defensive tackles made some splash plays against WVU and Darrin Kirkland Jr. was the top defensive performer, the overall play of the front seven was a disappointment.
So what’s going to happen in this game? Kirkland is the one guy who plays a crucial position that’s hard to adjust to in the 3-4. But he’s also the one guy, because of his photographic memory, who should have no trouble adjusting to that position.
As a result, he’ll be crucial in playing in the right positions and closing the gaps. But can the defensive tackles get a better push? Can the edge rushers make more of an impact? Will the other inside linebackers make an impact? That’s the biggest key.
The Vols need their inside linebackers to close all the gaps in this game. It’s the only way they can make sure that ETSU is no threat. If they allow any balance at all on Saturday, the Bucs could be ready to put on a show.