Here we go! Week four of our six-week countdown of the most important returning Tennessee Vols. Unfortunately, one member included on this heralded list has already gone down for the season… before the season has even started; Emmit Gooden was officially sidelined for the season on August 7, 2019 with a torn ACL (pours one out). While we hope and pray for a speedy recovery for Emmit, I am confident this coaching staff will trot out a defensive lineman that can be productive (for what it’s worth, my vote is for Elijah Simmons). Anyway, here is a list of the U.T. players we have taken looks at so far, and links to those articles:
6. Emmit Gooden: https://armchairallamericans.com/give-them-six-a-look-at-six-important-returning-vols/
5. Ty Chandler: https://armchairallamericans.com/give-them-six-week-number-2-ty-chandler/
4. Josh Palmer: https://armchairallamericans.com/give-them-six-week-3-josh-palmer/
So now let’s take a look at the third most important returning Tennessee Vol to the 2019-2020 campaign. After two straight weeks of looking at a member of the offense, it is time to flip the field again and look at another defensive player. Ladies and gentlemen, number 35 on the field and number 3 on this list; Daniel Bituli.
Who Is He:
- Name: Daniel Bituli
- Position: Linebacker
- Class: Senior
- Hometown: Nashville, TN
- Height/Weight: 6’3”/252 lbs.
What He Has Shown Us:
During the 2018-2019 season, a junior Bituli repeated for the Vols as the team’s leading tackler with 79 (his sophomore total was 90). Though the recent production is impressive, Bituli has been a productive member of U.T.’s defense since arriving on Rocky Top in 2016 fresh off a State Championship winning season at Nashville Christian.
Aside from the stat-stuffing game of Charlotte when he tallied his season high 13 tackles, Bituli also showed out against the toughest competition the Vols faced last year (Alabama and Georgia) and in a couple of rivalry games (Kentucky and Vanderbilt);
-9/29/18 @ UGA- 8 tackles
-10/20/18 vs. Bama- 8 tackles (in only one half of action)
-11/10/18 vs. UK- 8 tackles (3 of those being for loss)
-11/24/18 @ Vandy- 9 tackles
Some people (correctly) point out that higher tackle numbers are often due to a squad not being able to stop their opponents offenses. However, the fact that Bituli has repeated as Tennessee’s leader in tackles tells me he is an effective linebacker. He does his job, which is to tackle people, and he does it well.
How Did He Stack Up Against His Peers
In order to get a better picture of how well our players perform, I like to compare them to the best in the conference. Why? Because the Vols should have the best players in the conference, and until we consistently do, we aren’t taking back the East. Without taking back the East, we aren’t competing for any championships. I will settle for a bowl game in the next two of these first three years under Pruitt, but I definitely want to see our Vols’ players putting up similar numbers to their All-Conference peers.
Last season, the following players were named, by opposing coaches, as All-Conference Linebackers; Josh Allen- UK, Devin White- LSU, Deshaun Davis- Aub, Dylan Moses- Bama, Cale Garrett- Mizzou, Mack Wilson- Bama.
While the first teamers of those I just mentioned (Allen, White, and Davis) were leaps and bounds ahead of Bituli, the same cannot be said for the All-SEC Second Team Linebackers- Moses, Garrett, and Wilson.
Let’s do a “player A, B, C, and D” scenario, and I will let you, the reader, determine which three deserved Second Team All-Conference nods…
-Player A: Solo Tackles: 39/Assisted Tackles: 40/Total: 79/Tackles for Loss: 7
-Player B: Solo Tackles: 68/Assisted Tackles: 38/Total: 106/Tackles for Loss: 6
-Player C: Solo Tackles: 45/Assisted Tackles: 41/Total: 86/Tackles for Loss: 10
-Player D: Solo Tackles: 33/Assisted Tackles: 32/Total: 65/Tackles for Loss: 4.5
To me, stats alone tell me that Players A, B, and C are your guys. Player D played just a little under the numbers of the others. The difference? Player A is Daniel Bituli, whose Vols went 5-7 overall and 2-6 in the SEC. Player D is Mack Wilson from Alabama, who, ya know, played at Alabama. (Player B is Cale Garrett and Player C is Dylan Moses for those wondering).
While I understand and agree with the reasons that Bituli was left off of the All-Conference list, you cannot deny that he played at a level worthy of the recognition. However, that was last season, and I am more intrigued to see what Daniel Bituli can do for the Vols in 2019-2020.
What We Should Expect
One word comes to mind for me when I think of Daniel Bituli, and that is consistency. In any tape I have ever watched of him, he is a consistent presence and you know what you’re going to get from him. However, with the new staff surrounding him and the increase in level of competition he’ll see as roster-wide talent improves, we may should see a little bump in Bituli’s production this season. I am predicting a triple-digit total tackle season out of #35. What I would like to see more of is Bituli getting into the backfield and breaking up plays. Even if he doesn’t hit the century mark for tackles, but does increase the TFL number, I will consider that an improvement in his performance.
If U.T. can get both Bituli and fellow linebacker Darrell Taylor humming on all cylinders for their final collegiate season, the Vols’ second level could be one of the more impressive units in the SEC. Let’s hope that comes to fruition and we see both players not only their be named All-Conference, but maybe both hear their names called during the 2020 NFL Draft.
When Bituli was three years old, he and his family immigrated from the Congo to the United States, which is over 7,000 miles away from Knoxville. His mother, Nikki, is fluent in nine languages. I think it would be pretty cool to hear her say “Go Big Orange” in all of them.
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