Tennessee football: Jaylen McCollough absence devastating if Bryce Young plays

Tennessee defensive back Jaylen McCollough (22) during a game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.Kns Tennessee Florida Football
Tennessee defensive back Jaylen McCollough (22) during a game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.Kns Tennessee Florida Football /

This always seemed like the most likely outcome, but it was confirmed Saturday. Tennessee football will be without safety Jaylen McCollough against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Pete Thamel of ESPN reported McCollough and Cedric Tillman would be out.

Tillman’s absence seemed obvious earlier in the week, so we already wrote here about how the Vols can adjust without him. McCollough was arrested last weekend and still hasn’t resolved the matter just yet, which explains why he is out.

Another huge question is if Bryce Young plays for Alabama. That’s incredibly relevant for Tennessee football now with McCollough out. Make no mistake. If Young plays, the Vols are in serious trouble for this game.

Sometimes, mediocrity is better than the other options. UT was always going to have major issues in the secondary going into the year, most notably at No. 1 cornerback. Warren Burrell didn’t seem like he could replace Alontae Taylor there.

However, Burrell then went down with a season-ending injury, and against the Florida Gators, the Vols showed it could get much worse without him. Now, though, one of their most experienced players is out at safety, only making it worse.

McCollough has struggled in coverage at times, but he’s serviceable, and he plays a huge role in containing mobile quarterbacks. That hybrid ability will be crucial for Tennessee football if Young is able to go given his mobility and ability to throw from the pocket.

Taking that into account, not having McCollough is a big deal since the Vols already don’t have Burrell. You can’t use last week at the LSU Tigers as an example. The factors are entirely different for Rocky Top heading into this one.

Last week, Josh Heupel’s team was coming off a bye. They also got a big lead early because of a series of LSU mistakes, forcing obvious passing downs and allowing Tim Banks to adjust his defense accordingly. Finally, Jayden Daniels is no Young.

Daniels has some real strengths, but he’s an east-west runner and has major issues with accuracy. Anthony Richardson was a much more effective runner and better at avoiding sacks, and that’s why the Florida Gators torched the Vols through the air.

Well, Banks will have to worry about Young’s mobility in the way he had to worry about Richardson’s mobility, and Young is a much better passer. Now, without McCollough, you could potentially see Alabama picking up 600 yards through the air.

Everybody is questioning Alabama’s group of receivers compared to years past, but that’s not really relevant when facing a secondary that struggles like the Vols. They still have enough elite athletes to bring about an onslaught.

Heck, even if Jalen Milroe plays, the Vols have an issue, as McCollough’s abilities at quarterback containment would be a part of stopping Milroe from going off with his legs. Simply put, his absence is going to be a problem.

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As a result, Tennessee football’s best chance is pressure. Yes, that means the quarterbacks can run on them, but they really don’t have any other choice. Byron Young and Tyler Baron just have to get to the quarterback as much as possible.