By Tyler Martin
Special to The Tuscaloosa News
In 2018 Tennessee finished 5-7 in the first year under head coach Jeremy Pruitt. It was the second year in a row the Volunteers failed to reach a postseason bowl game. Over the last two seasons, the Volunteers have gone 2-14 in SEC play with both wins coming last year over Auburn and Kentucky.
On the bright side, in 2019 Tennessee returns 18 starters, the most in the SEC. Of the eight returning starters on offense, junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano aims to be the most pivotal starter for the team’s success in 2019.
“The game of football comes easy to him,” Pruitt said at SEC Media Days in July. “He has a lot of arm strength and he can extend plays on his feet. He has been a great leader for us.”
Guarantano saw his numbers shoot up to 1,907 yards and 12 touchdowns with only three interceptions.
As the other offensive skill players go, junior running back Ty Chandler, wide receivers Marquez Callaway, Juan Jennings, and Josh Palmer help make up 91 percent of the offensive production returning to the team.
None of the six returning starters on defense are from the Vols’ defensive line. “In this league, it all starts up front on the defensive line,” Pruitt said. “We have very little experience in that position group. It is a huge question mark for us.”
Senior linebackers Darrell Taylor and Daniel Bituli return to give the Volunteers much needed leadership in the middle of their defense. Taylor had the most sacks of the SEC players returning in 2019 with eight.
The Volunteers will bring back four members of it’s secondary from a year ago – corners Bryce Thompson and Alontae Taylor and safeties Nigel Warrior and Baylen Buchanan.
Pruitt has a long way to go in taking this program back to its former glory, but it definitely helps having one of the more experienced teams in the SEC this upcoming season.
“This league is very competitive,” Pruitt said. “It is probably the most competitive it has ever been. We have to do our part and plan as a staff and execute that plan. Our players believe in our vision and so do the kids we are recruiting. There is a lot that goes into that plan and we are continuing to work it out.”
2018 record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC/7th in SEC East)
All-time SEC championships: 13
All-time bowl appearances: 52
Sept. 1 vs. West Virginia L 14-40
Sept. 8 vs. ETSU W 59-3
Sept. 15 vs. UTEP W 24-0
Sept. 22 vs. Florida L 21-47
Sept. 29 at. Georgia L 12-38
Oct. 13 at. Auburn W 30-24
Oct. 20 vs. Alabama L 21-58
Oct. 27 at South Carolina L 24-27
Nov. 3 vs. Charlotte W 14-3
Nov. 10 vs. Kentucky W 24-7
Nov. 17 vs. Missouri L 17-50
Nov. 24 at. Vanderbilt L 13-38
Starters returning: 18 Offense: 8 Defense: 6 Specialty: 4
Starters lost: 8 Offense: 3 Defense: 5 Specialty: 0
Returning offensive starters: Jarrett Guarantano (QB. JR), Ty Chandler (RB. JR), Marquez Callaway (WR. SR), Josh Palmer (WR. JR), Jauan Jennings (WR. SR), Ryan Johnson (OL. JR), Jahmir Johnson (OL. JR), Marcus Tatum (OL. JR)
Returning defensive starters: Darrell Taylor (LB. SR), Daniel Bituli (LB. SR), Bryce Thompson (DB. SO), Alontae Taylor (DB. SO), Baylen Buchanan (DB. SR), Nigel Warrior (DB. SR)
Returning statistical leaders
Rushing Att Yards Avg TD
Ty Chandler 115 630 5.5 4
Passing Att Yards Avg TD
Jarrett Guarantano 153-246 1907 7.8 12
Receiving Att Yards Avg TD
Marquez Callaway 37 592 16.0 2
Tackles Total Int Sack TFL
Daniel Bituli 79 0 1 7
Aug. 31 vs. Georgia State
Sept. 7 vs. BYU
Sept. 14:vs. Chattanooga
Sept. 21 at. Florida
Oct. 5 vs. Georgia
Oct. 12 vs. Mississippi State
Oct. 19 at Alabama
Oct. 26 vs. South Carolina
Nov. 2 vs. UAB
Nov. 9 at. Kentucky
Nov. 23 at. Missouri
Nov. 30 vs. Vanderbilt