With Jeremy Banks entering the NFL Draft and opting out of the Orange Bowl, Tennessee football will have a difficult task against the Clemson Tigers. We saw what the Vols looked like in their last game without Banks. They lost 63-38 to the South Carolina Gamecocks.
However, if Banks was going to be gone after this year anyway, the Vols were going to have to find other players to step up. They did get help in numerous commitments at linebacker plus BYU Cougars transfer Keenan Pili.
Against Clemson, though, defensive coordinator Tim Banks said in his Tuesday press conference the players who will be in the game want to end the year on a high note. He added that players stepping up has been the mantra all year for Tennessee football.
“It’s been a revolving door at a lot of spots, so to speak, obviously for different circumstances,” he said. “Some guys aren’t here, but we’re super excited about the guys who are here. Those guys want to finish this thing.”
Aaron Beasley, Juwan Mitchell and Solon Page III are part of that group beyond Jeremy Banks. Then there are younger players in the system who haven’t seen a lot of action this year.
Kalib Perry and Elijah Herring are freshmen who were part of the Vols’ 2022 recruiting class. Banks was coy about whether or not they would make it onto the field.
“I think a lot of it just depends on how the game unfolds, but our mindset right now is we’re going to put the best players out there to give us the best opportunity to win the game,” he said. “Those young guys have really come along, and you expect that just with the amount of work that they’ve gotten, not just during bowl prep but the whole season. We’re putting together some packages, and I guess you’ll just have to find out Friday night.”
Both Perry and Herring played in all 12 games this year as reserves. Perry finished with 14 tackles, seven of which were solo. Herring had two and a half tackles for a loss, two sacks and 11 tackles, four of which were solo.
Although he said they will miss Jeremy Banks, Tim Banks added that he is excited about the players that are ready to play in this one. He also added he thinks they’ll play great.
“I think from a mental perspective we understand what’s going on,” he said. “It’s not a shock, but at the end of the day the guys have to prepare the right way and so far, they’re doing that.”
Of course, beyond just preparing without his top linebacker, Tim Banks also has to prepare for a different quarterback at Clemson. Cade Klubnik will start despite D.J. Uiagalelei starting all year.
Banks said Klubnik has a strong arm and has shown an ability to improvise and make plays. However, he also noted that there’s no way of knowing how fast and strong he is until kickoff.
“I can tell you this, he’s definitely got our guys’ attention by what he’s done on tape, and we have a lot of respect for the Clemson program as a whole,” he said. “We know he’s talented, he wouldn’t be there if he wasn’t and for those guys to put him into the (ACC) championship game and thrust him into that role, we understand the type of confidence that they have in him.”
It all starts, though, with slowing down the rushing attack, and that’s where the linebackers come back into play. Banks has done a great job dialing up different blitzes and stunts all year.
Those plays have helped the undermanned secondary in the passing game but also helped stop the run. Using them against the new quarterback will be crucial for Tennessee football.
“Those guys do a great job with their RPO concepts,” Banks said. “They have a really strong run game. They do a great job that way.”
Beasley will probably be the most prominent linebacker stepping up for Jeremy Banks. He has been starting with Banks since Josh Heupel and Tim Banks took over in 2021.
Just a Tim Banks said, Beasley is going to focus on what their rushing attack. He noted that’s their focus, and then they can use Klubnik to take shots.
“Their quarterback is pretty good, the freshman (Cade Klubnik); he can improvise with his legs,” he said. “I feel like he’s got a lot of confidence in himself. He’s a winner, but I feel like they want to establish the run game, so I feel like we’ve got to do a good job of handling that and limiting explosive plays.”