This previous summer prior to the 2019 University of Tennessee football campaign kickin off, I started the “Give (them) six” series, which looked at who I thought were the 6 most important returning Volunteer football players in this year’s effort to return to the post-season for the first time since 2016. There had been a couple of dark seasons since that Music City Bowl victory over Nebraska, but I felt confident that Tennessee would be back in a bowl this season. While the path to getting there wasn’t what I (nor most) had anticipated, and there were a number of moments I thought my prediction had been wrong, somehow it all came together, and the Volunteers accepted a bid to play in the Taxslayer Gator Bowl against the Indiana Hoosiers. And they beat them.
So now that the 2019 season has ended for the Vols with an 8-5 overall record (and likely a spot in the final AP Top 25), I want to look back at the 6 players I talked about back when the weather was a little warmer. I’ll compare their actual stats or seasons to what I had anticipated, and then talk a little bit about said season. You can click on each individual player’s name to looks back at the original article!
The Review Begins
Number 6: Emmit Gooden- The Season that Wasn’t
I thought Gooden was slated to have a monster season, and I was excited to see him potentially line up against Aubrey Solomon. However, this did not come to pass as Gooden suffered a season ending injury before the season even actually started. Not all was lost, though, as the Volunteers’ Defensive Line showed a lot of production from some new faces and some continued play from some veterans, and was a solid unit all season long. Hopefully, Gooden will be able to bounce back. I would love to see him on the 2020 Defensive Line!
My final verdict- I really swung and missed here.
Number 5: Ty Chandler- The Question Mark
I truly believed Ty Chandler was going to have a breakout season. Instead, we saw him have numbers pretty similar to his 2018 season, even regressing in a couple categories. I thought with a new O.C. in Jim Chaney, Chandler would be able to use his speed and experience to vault up some draft boards and potentially leave after his Junior year for the NFL. Early season struggles for the entire team, a couple nicks and bruises for Chandler, and the emergence of Eric Gray (a good thing) really had an impact on Chandler’s season. My prediction that Chandler ends his U.T. career in the top 10 all-time rushing yards leader is not out of the realm of possibility. It is an outside shot, but Chandler would need 775 yards rushing next season to overtake Curt Watson as number 10 all time.
Final 2019 Season Statistics for Ty Chandler: 135 rushing attempts/655 rushing yards/4.9 yards per rush/3 rushing TDs
My final verdict- He continued to be a valuable piece of the running back room, and did lead the team in yards rushing. I’m not calling this a total miss on my part because of him leading a unit that rushed for over 1,500 yards. He did not have his breakout season, though. He should be back next fall, but will probably by number 2 on the depth chart.
Number 4: Josh Palmer- Still in Line
Prior to this season, I still wasn’t convinced Juaun Jennings was going to find his way onto the field in 2019, and so I opined that Josh Palmer would be the number 2 to Marquez Callaway. Thankfully, in the long run, I was wrong, but Josh Palmer still had a good season for the number 3 target on a team with a ton of confusion where quarterbacking was concerned. He increased his number of receptions from 23-34, but he stayed about where he was in 2018 in terms of yards, and had a significant decrease in yards per catch. Please note, I mentioned in his preview that I already had trust in Marquez Callaway and that I was certain he was going to have a big season, I just wasn’t 100% sold on Palmer and thought a big season from him could indicate a big season for the Vols. While, like Ty Chandler, it wasn’t the breakout season I was hoping for, he will be back in 2020 and should be the number 1 or number 2 receiver/target all season. It’s all there for Palmer, he just has to put it all together!
Final 2019 Season Statistics for Josh Palmer: 34 receptions/457 yards receiving/13.4 yards per catch/1 receiving touchdown.
My final verdict- Like Chandler, I wasn’t counting on another player to come in and be so dominant. However, he did underwhelm and failed to take a big step forward. Some of that is on him, and some of that is on our quarterback carousel. While I didn’t say I whiffed on Chandler, I will say that I whiffed here on Palmer. Look for all of his numbers to take a bump in the right direction in 2020!
Number 3: Daniel Bituli- Mr. Consistency
In my preseason look at Daniel Bituli, I said that if he could just keep on keeping on being the man on Tennessee’s defense, he would have a massive impact on the 2019 season. Well, he did continue his high level of play, and he was one of the most important reasons for 2019’s overall success. Bituli finally got some help in the form of future U.T. legend Henry To’oTo’o, and his second level hybrid man-beast Darrell Taylor also had a big year. Tennessee’s defense was their calling card for most of the season, and Daniel Bituli was the leader of said defense. He did miss a couple of games, or his numbers would have far and away been better than his 2018 numbers, which were impressive in their own right. Bituli ended his Tennessee career with 264 total tackles.
Final 2019 Season Statistics for Daniel Bituli: 86 total tackles (50 solo), 3 sacks, 1 Forced Fumble
My final verdict- I was right here. Bituli continued to build an impressive resume and did so while AGAIN leading the Volunteers in tackles and being named 2nd Team All-SEC. Tennessee was fortunate to have Daniel Bituli for the past four years. He and Darrell Taylor were the heart and soul of this defense, and both will be on NFL rosters in 2020, with both likely being selected in the draft. One of my favorite players to watch, Bituli will be sorely missed.
Number 2: Nigel Warrior- The Awakening
In the Give (them) six series I was pretty hard on Nigel Warrior. I said that he was going to be the 2nd most important returning Vol in putting the team back in the post-season and back on the tracks. Well, two things happened: 1. Nigel had a fantastic season, and 2. We played in a bowl game. Nigel Warrior looked like a completely different safety compared to any of his previous seasons on Rocky Top in 2019. In the preview, I said that Warrior had to increase his tackling numbers and efficiency, as well as cause some turnovers. He did both. I know that most, if not all, of Vol Nation has been rooting for this kid from the moment he stepped on campus, and we finally saw what all the hype was about this season. Warrior was an anchor on our defense and made multiple vital plays throughout the season, including a tackle against Kentucky that I think will go down as an all-time U.T. highlight.
Final 2019 Season Statistics for Nigel Warrior: 70 tackles, 4 interceptions (#2 in the SEC), 9 passes defended.
Final Verdict- This one I got right, and it is the one I am most pleased with. Nigel Warrior was acknowledged as 2nd Team All-SEC along with Bituli. Also like Bituli, I am pretty certain that Warrior has played himself into an NFL draftee in 2020. It took a while for him to get there, but he turned the switch on at the right time as senior years are the most important. I am going to miss watching the ferocity in which Warrior played while a member of the Big Orange, and wherever he lands in the NFL, I will be following him!
Number 1: Jarrett Guarantano- The Enigma
Shew. This one is a humdinger. I was very high on Guarantano during the preseason (which is why he was number 1 on my list) and thought we would go the way he went. And we did…kinda…sorta…maybe?. I am still confused by the mercurial nature of his play. Injuries, inane play-changes against Alabama, and poor performances on one hand. Gutsy, intense, getting a first down to seal the game versus UK, and dime-throws on the other. Midway through the season, Coach Jeremy Pruitt made the comment that Guarantano, though no longer the full-time starting quarterback, would help us win games down the road. Pruitt was correct, and Guarantano did. While it may not have been the prettiest at times, and we are all looking for a certain incoming freshman from Marietta, Georgia to lead us for the next 3+ years, Guarantano was the best, most prepared quarterback on the roster. I do not think we get to 8 wins without him. My preseason projections for JG were: 2,500+ yards, around 20 TDs, a dip in the completion percentage, a 3:1 TD:INT ratio.. Continue reading to see what we actually got from him.
Final 2019 Season Statistics for Jarrett Guarantano: 59.1% completion, 2,158 yards, 16 TDs, 8 Ints (2:1 ratio).
Final Verdict- said the Vols would go as Guarantano went. If you consider that the season was a complete roller coaster with just some head scratching moments, I hit it pretty square. My projections, aside from the completion percentage, were a little off (-342 yards, 2:1 TD:INT instead of 3:1), but not completely terrible. I am neutral on this one. What is next for JG is a mystery to all fans, and maybe even himself and players/staff members within the Vols’ (and Other?) programs. Nevertheless, JG does end his junior season as being the last quarterback to lead the team to a bowl victory. As for me, I can’t wait for 2020 Fall Camp.
At the end of the piece I put together on JG, I said I believed we would go either 7-5 or 8-4. That looks good now, but we all would have whiffed if we were told to pick the wins and losses prior to the season. This season, The Vols accomplished what I wanted them to; getting back to a bowl game. The future is very bright on Rocky Top, and I am ready for, as Pruitt says, the Decade of the Vols!
Before I sign off, I will give you my Entirely Too Early “Give (them) six” vol. 2’s most important RETURNING Vols in 2020 *This will not include players I think are leaving early for the NFL or transferring at this moment:
Give (them) six 2020
6. Bryce Thompson
5. Henry To’oTo’o
4. Trey Smith
3. Josh Palmer
2. Wanya Morris
1. Eric Gray
Finally, this will be the final article I will be writing for MoreImportantIssues on the Football side of things. It has been a wonderful experience getting to cover a Tennessee team that was so… interesting. I truly hope you have enjoyed my work, and be sure to check out the content I put out covering the Volunteers Men’s Basketball team for the remainder of the 2019-2020 season. The boys on the hardwood are looking like the may have a roller-coaster year, as well.
Be sure to check out the MoreImportantIssues twitter (@more_issues) and listen to the podcast! Landon and Caleb do a great job breaking down all sports on Rocky Top and are sure to have you laughing while you listen. Until next time, this is Dakota Robertson signing off! Go Vols!
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