Tennessee Game Grades UMass Edition

Tennessee Game Grades UMass Edition

A week after a program defining loss to rival Florida, Tennessee hosted winless Massachusetts on Saturday. With frustration mounting around fifth-year head coach Butch Jones and the state of the Volunteers program, the Vols desperately needed a solid outing this week.

It wasn’t to be. The Vols had a listless first half and only led 14-6 at the half. The second half wasn’t much better. The Vols survived against a winless, independent team 17-13 in what can only be described as an embarrassing win.

This is a team that has talked about resiliency all season. The team in Orange on Saturday looked nervous. It certainly seems that this team feels the pressure of expectation. And this team isn’t handling that pressure well at all.

Tennessee Game Grades UMass Edition

Offense: F

Tennessee’s offense still hasn’t found a consistent rhythm. The Vols are in the fourth game of the season and can’t put together two solid quarters, much less a full game, of offensive football. Much of that is execution. But some of it is questionable play calling. As an example, Tennessee had a first and five on its first drive of the second half. Rather than unleashing their superior athleticism, they called inside run calls two plays in a row resulting in minus-two yards.

Tyler Byrd touched the ball three times. Twice for first downs and once for a touchdown reception. The lack of Byrd in the jet sweep option of the read-option play is baffling. That forces the defense ends to keep contain on the edge — something Dormady doesn’t do for the inside run game.

Most concerning was the observation that Tennessee’s offense got worse late in the game. Again, this team is showing signs of cracking under the strain of the expectations.

Offensive Stat of the Game:  7-18 on 3rd Downs.

Quarterback: D

Signal caller Quinten Dormady started slow yet again. Dormady missed on three different passes on the first two drives of a scoreless first quarter. Dormady’s slow starts are becoming far too predictable. Dormady also added a fumble in the first quarter. We’ve talked about his decision making in the read option attack, and while the decision to run was correct, his almost complete ineffectiveness in the run game is the single biggest offensive weakness for Tennessee right now. Dormady has shown success in the short- and mid-level passing game, but still has not shown consistency with a vertical passing attack that can loosen up defenses. And that’s supposed to be his big strength over the other quarterbacks. After only mustering 17 points in the first 40 minutes, Jarrett Guarantano finally got his first action late in the third quarter. Things didn’t get any better under Guarantano. Dormady finished up the game under center.

Running Backs: B-

John Kelly was the difference between surviving and disaster. Kelly’s stats weren’t eye-popping. His workman-like 101 yards on 25 rushes don’t show the key first down runs that kept Massachusetts’ defense on the field. Ty Chandler continues to serve as a capable back-up, especially when he can get some space on the outside and use his speed. The Minutemen were keyed on Kelly the whole game. They forced Tennessee to beat them with something other than their rushing attack. And it almost worked.

Receivers: C

Have yourself a day, Brandon Johnson. Johnson caught 7 passes for 123 yards in his break-through game for the Vols. But Johnson had a huge drop on the second play of the 4th quarter that killed a Tennessee drive. Josh Smith had several good blocks on the edge to enable first down runs. And on at least two occasions, receivers went up to break up likely interceptions on poorly thrown deep balls. It’s hard to tell whether there’s a lack of separation down field or if the quarterbacks aren’t seeing the field well enough. Either way, there’s simply not enough production in the vertical passing game and the responsibility has to be shared.

Offensive Line: C

Jashon Robertson was one of thirteen starters out of Tennessee this week. While it’s difficult for an offensive line to get downfield push in a read option attack, you would expect a team that’s athletically far superior to win the line of scrimmage against a clearly lesser team. Especially after wearing down a good Florida front last week. Like many of the other groups, it was simply a ho-hum performance from the line. The offensive line never really got to a point on Saturday where it was dominating the Minutemen front seven. Tennessee’s inability to dominate the first down and time of possession statistic was emblematic of the Vols frustrations up front.

Defense: C+

Sure, the defense was playing a much weaker team. But Massachusetts running backs are good players. And their offense line was fairly sizable. But most importantly, Tennessee’s offense didn’t do the defense any favors today.

That doesn’t excuse the two long drives for the Minutemen or the two long plays by Andy Isabella. But when you’re out there knowing you have to win the game, playing on a razor’s edge, with a game on the edge that shouldn’t be close, early in a season already on the brink, it just adds to the strain of the pressure already on the team.

Defensive Stat of the Game: Tennessee lost the time of possession yet again, 29:41 to 29:10.

Defensive Line: C+

The defensive line, short with the absence of Shy Tuttle, held up decently. Jonathan Kongbo started with two poor plays, but played better in the second half. Kyle Phillips had an overall strong game but got burned for one of Massachusetts’ touchdowns when the Minutemen quarterback slipped right by him in the pocket. UMass found the most success on the edges and outside, as the defensive line held the middle well.

Linebackers: C+

You’ve got to wonder what might have been if not for injuries to Darren Kirkland, Jr. and Cortez McDowell. For the exception of one poor play resulting in a Massachusetts passing touchdown, the linebackers played well today. Quart’e Sapp and Daniel Bituli racked up 9 and 5 tackles respectively. Colton Jumper was effective in the middle with a sack on the day. Even Elliott Berry had a sack on the day. There was some weakness on stopping some speed plays on the outside.

Defensive Backs: C+

Justin Martin was clearly the most improved player on the field this week. Martin has struggled the first three weeks, but made two good plays early in the game. Transfer Shaq Wiggins also saw his first significant playing time. While UMass didn’t test the Vols secondary must, when they did the defensive backfield was able to make plays. What success the Minutemen did have in the passing game was against the linebackers. Both Emmanuel Moseley and Rashaan Gaulden had subtle, unnoticed critical tackles in run support.

Special Teams: B-

Trevor Daniel had another strong day punting. And the punt coverage put Tennessee’s offense in good field position most of the day. Tennessee missed another field goal in the first half, but converted a second in the second half.

Coaching: D

The play-calling. The non-sensical juggling of quarterbacks. The inability of the team to handle the adversity of last week. And probably a little bit of looking forward to next week. This wasn’t pretty, and it’s only going to make things worse. There’s not much defense for the coaching after this game.

Attendance: Absent

The biggest mark against the team today was in the attendance section. The team just didn’t seem to show up. It was execution of the plays per se, and it wasn’t even effort. It seems like Vols struggled to focus. Again, this lack of mentally showing up is likely due to the mounting pressure on the entire program to perform. And yet again, they’ve failed to answer the bell.

Looking Ahead

The lackluster performance against Massachusetts does nothing to relieve the pressure on the program. Next week might be the most important game in Butch Jones’ career as a football coach. Tennessee is staring a much improved second-tier of the SEC East in the face with Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina all legitimate threats to beat Tennessee later in the season. Coupled with Alabama and LSU from the West, Tennessee needs every win they can get. A loss against Georgia will put the Vols in a precarious 3-2 situation and two games (plus tiebreaker) behind the leaders of the SEC East.

The fan base will grow more frustrated. The national media will declare Tennessee as another preseason over-rated team and continue to stoke the fires in Knoxville. This could be the beginning of the end for Jones in Knoxville. A loss against Georgia will certainly add to that narrative.

Increasingly, these under performing grades are being attributed to the teacher, not the pupils.

 

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