Tennessee moved to 2-0 on the season after taking care of the FCS Indiana State Sycamores 42-7 in the Vols’ home-opener on Saturday.
This was basically somewhere in the area of the expected result, right? The Vols were able to rotate some fresh players in, the defense didn’t give up over 500 yards rushing, quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was able to see some action and the team was able to work on different aspects in preparation for next week’s game at Florida.
Yes, this all happened but it didn’t play out as crisp and easy as many fans were hoping for at times. Yes, Tennessee won by 35 but it seemed like it should’ve been by 49 if a few things went differently or were better executed.
Let’s hand out some grades and see what improved from Georgia Tech in this week’s edition of the position group report card for the Vols.
Hey, look! I can use the plural form of quarterback and it be factually accurate this time!
Both of Tennessee’s co-starting quarterbacks, according to the depth chart, saw the field versus Indiana State with Quinten Dormady starting the game and Guarantano making his collegiate debut late in the first quarter. The good news is that neither one looked bad, but it could’ve been much better.
Dormady and Guarantano both had their share of overthrows downfield, with Dormady missing two would-be scores to Josh Palmer. Guarantano’s day would have been better if his receivers would’ve helped on some plays, especially Jeff George when he couldn’t hang on to a perfect throw by JG on 3rd down.
Each QB also had some questionable throws as well, with Dormady telegraphing a pick directly to an Indiana State player in the end zone and Guarantano throwing a pass that should’ve been picked in the second half. However, each made their share of good plays on the day and finished with respectable stat-lines, all things considered (Dormady: 13-of-18, 194 YDS, 2 TD, 1 INT; Guarantano: 4-of-12, 41 YDS, 1 TD). Dormady is still the man for now, but it’s possible that the QB controversy train could be pulling into the station next week at Florida.
Tennessee did what it was supposed to do in this game: give all your running backs some action against an opponent like this. They also did something that made everyone nervous: give John Kelly carries until late in the third quarter.
Kelly made good use out of his more-than-expected workload, leading the team in rushing with 80 yards on 18 carries. Carlin Fils-aime got his first carries on the year, rushing for two scores on just three touches. Ty Chandler, Trey Coleman and Tim Jordan all got four carries each.
All contributed towards the Vols’ 160 rushing yards on the day, which doesn’t seem too impressive versus an FCS school, but you got some real reps and experience down the depth chart on Saturday which is really what really matters in games like this.
It could’ve been so much better for this group that it was on Saturday. If some balls aren’t off-target and some on-target balls were held onto, it would’ve been a great day for Tennessee’s receivers.
Oh well, Brandon Johnson was the most consistent receiver for the game, hauling in four catches for 50 yards and a score. Josh Palmer had a good sliding grab and would’ve had scores if not for the aforementioned overthrows. Jeff George recovered from early mishaps to get his first career touchdown in the fourth quarter. Eli Wolf and Jakob Johnson also contributed one catch each for a solid game from the tight end spot.
Oh and Marquez Callaway wasn’t targeted until late in the third quarter for some reason. When he was, he took his lone catch of the day 37 yards for a touchdown, making Sycamore defenders look silly in the process. That’s five catches for three touchdowns on the young season for Callaway. Maybe Larry Scott is saving giving him more targets for the #SecretGatorsPlaybook?
There were some issues you didn’t want to see versus Indiana State, that’s for sure. There were multiple instances of the line not getting enough push to open up holes in the run game and both quarterbacks were pressured on many occasions, the worst example being were Dormady was stripped-sacked, which allowed the Sycamores a short field to get their only score of the day. Our own Nathan Odom had this to say on the offensive line’s performance in his Vol Stocks article:
The offensive line was as much of “eh” as the defensive line was. Tennessee’s running backs didn’t always have holes to run through, and they didn’t stay open long when they did. Dormady and Guarantano both took a few shots today after delivering some passes, and Drew Richmond had one of the weirdest attempted blocks I’ve ever seen.
Tackle near the upper mid of the screen. Sorta just let's him say hello to JG. pic.twitter.com/GIboLOwuBt
— Nathan Odom (@NathanOdom11) September 9, 2017
A lot to improve before Florida for sure.
The good thing for the defensive line is that you had an infinite amount of room to improve after Georgia Tech and what we saw on Saturday was certainly much better. Darrell Taylor and Kyle Phillips each deflected a pass, Kahlil McKenzie and Kendal Vickers had solid games, when ISU tried to run up the middle, there wasn’t much room for them. They weren’t gashed. But there was a lack of real pressure in the backfield at times and a lack of edge speed showed when ISU did one of their 100,000 jet sweeps. This was especially true for Jonathan Kongbo, who looked helpless many times as he tried to chase ISU’s running backs.
And a VFL defensive lineman wasn’t too pleased with the unit still lining up about 10 miles from the line of scrimmage:
2&1 and we line up on the first down line!!! We will have the worst rush defense in the SEC!!! But good news is we are CHAMPIONS OF LIFE!!! pic.twitter.com/3Pha2EHope
— Albert Haynesworth (@haynesworthiii) September 9, 2017
Daniel Bituli, Colton Jumper and Cortez McDowell didn’t have double-digit tackle games like they did Monday and thankfully they weren’t out there for 90-plus snaps to do so. All your starters had solid games, managed to get in the backfield to disrupt plays often and helped towards Tennessee’s defense not allowing the Sycamores to convert one third down (0-for-11).
But, like the defensive line, there were some issues with trying to contain ISU when they would run their multiple jet sweeps, but other than that, it was a solid outing for this group and they improved from the last game.
Despite having a downgrade in the quality of opponent, the Vols’ secondary was going to play a bigger role against the Sycamores just based on the fact that they didn’t run the triple option. ISU only attempted 19 passes but they were held in check to the tune of 93 yards passing total.
On Monday, when Georgia Tech did pass, big plays downfield occurred or nearly did if some passes would’ve been on-target. Those were few and far between for ISU on Saturday, with the biggest passing gain only gaining 23 yards. Micah Abernathy did a great job in breaking up a pass that would’ve been a huge play for ISU and Emmanuel Moseley, Nigel Warrior and Rashaan Gaulden combined for 17 tackles and 1.5 TFL. No major complaints for this group.
Although not as crucial as they were on Monday, the special teams unit is consistently good until further notice. With Evan Berry out, the Vols’ kickoff return unit didn’t miss a beat as Ty Chandler took the opening kickoff 90 yards to the house.
Callaway showed why he’s just as dangerous at returning punts as he is at receiving, as he had 53 yards on four returns, including his longest for 36 yards that nearly went the distance. When it was Tennessee’s turn to punt, Trevor Daniel showed off his golden leg, averaging 48 yards per punt and a long of 59 yards. Kickoff and punt coverage did its job well too, as ISU wasn’t able to make any big plays in returns. Another overall great game by this unit with the exception of some obvious block in the back and holding calls during one punt return.
It seemed as if there were points in this game that the coaching was lackluster. My biggest peeves were playing Kelly as late as they were when you should’ve been trying to avoid a Chuck Webb vs. Pacific in 1990 situation and the ways that all of the pre-snap motioning that ISU did would catch the defense off-guard sometimes.
The team didn’t sluggishly walk into this game not wanting to play and the Vols definitely did not take Indiana State lightly like some FBS teams are to do on occasion and that is good. You didn’t lose any key players to a major injury but playing certain starters as long as they were out there was nerve-wracking.
Nothing happened yesterday to cause me to gain or lose any more confidence in the coaching staff. That will obviously change this time next week.