Could senior linebacker Darrell Taylor set the single-season Tennessee football sacks record? He has to beat Volunteers legend Reggie White to do it.
One of the highlights of the 2016 Tennessee football season was Derek Barnett getting 13 sacks to surpass Reggie White’s career record for sacks at UT. He broke it by one sack and did it in one less season, which was impressive.
However, Barnett came short of that ever-elusive 15 sacks single-season record that White had in 1983. In fact, he was half a sack behind Jonathan Brown for second place. But he’s on the top 10 list three times, while nobody else is on it more than once.
This year, Tennessee football has another player looking to become a stat machine. Fifth-year senior Darrell Taylor moved to outside linebacker last year after spending his first three seasons at defensive end.
In the switch to the 3-4, he was a bit slow developing, and that was partly because of Jeremy Pruitt’s focus on Jonathan Kongbo as the top edge rusher. However, Taylor still came away with eight sacks and 11 tackles for a loss. He led all returning SEC players for this year in sacks last year. But could he take it to another level?
Remember, Taylor was learning how to play in the system when he did all that last year. And his sacks only came in three games: three against the Georgia Bulldogs, four against the Kentucky Wildcats and one against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
As the Vols’ top edge rusher heading into 2019, the goal that Pruitt has for him and that he has for himself is to turn that on for every game. Well, is that possible? If he kept his average sack total from just those three games, that would mean 32 sacks for a full-game season. White had 32 for his career, and Barnett had 33.
Obviously, that’s an insane proposition. However, when he was playing defensive end in 2017, he still managed three sacks then. So he’s great at being an edge rusher and getting to the passer. The only question is how consistently he can do it.
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Is it possible for Taylor to at least double his production from last year given the fact that he only did it in three games? Doing that would get him right at 16 sacks in the regular season, one more than White’s 1983 record, and at that point they would have both done it within 12 games. Given the hype behind him, it’s worth, paying attention to.
One major factor as to how much of a stat machine Taylor becomes will be Tennessee football’s defensive line. The elite play of Alexis Johnson, Kyle Phillips and Shy Tuttle allowed guys like Taylor to be a force last year.
All three are gone, and the only other proven talent who helped out last year, Emmit Gooden, is lost for the season. Meanwhile, Michigan Wolverines transfer Aubrey Solomon hasn’t been granted his eligibility waiver to play yet by the NCAA. And it might not happen.
So Pruitt is turning to junior college transfers, a couple of freshmen and a bunch of redshirts to find guys to step up. There’s hope with the emergence of Greg Emerson and the talents of players like Savion Williams, Matthew Butler, LaTrell Bumphus and Darel Middleton. But it’s only cautious optimism at this point.
If Taylor is to make a run at this record, he needs the defensive line to be where it was last year while he takes a major leap forward. But both of those things happening does make it possible for him to be the single-season sacks leader in Tennessee football history when the season ends. So pay attention to how much of a splash he makes.