An early kickoff made for a sluggish start for Tennessee on Saturday. This was a slightly tougher task than last week, but that’s not saying much. UTEP is one of the most disadvantaged FBS teams in the country. Tennessee took care of business 24-0, but one group continues to disappoint.
Jarrett Guarantano looked sharp again. He was efficient, going 12-of-16 for 168 yards and a touchdown. He also gained 34 yards on the ground minus sack yardage. The biggest difference from last year is how well he throws the deep ball. So far this season, he seems to be able to float the ball and let the receiver be able to get under it. He also has shown pretty good pocket presence in a small sample size. The New Jersey product was able to scramble for modest gains and avoid sacks when the pocket collapsed or routes weren’t open. Keller Chryst looked pedestrian in limited time.
Running Backs: B+
Ty Chandler was back and healthy. The sophomore broke free around the edge on Tennessee’s first possession of the second half. The play was much needed after a sluggish first half. He finished the day with 158 yards on 12 carries. This group saw four guys go over 40 yards. Madre London finished with 74 yards on nine rushes. Tim Jordan had the only other rushing touchdown. Other than a fumble at the goal line by Jeremy Banks, this corps looked sharp.
This unit continues to be the class of the whole team. This time it was Brandon Johnson carrying the load. The junior led the way with 51 yards on four receptions. One reception from Keller Chryst was for a loss. The three others from Guarantano were all for first downs, including two screens where Johnson had to work for a first down. He recovered nicely from dropping a pass in the opening possession for what would have been a first down. The Vols’ leading receiver, Marquez Callaway, only had one reception for eight yards. Sophomore Josh Palmer hauled in a beautiful pass from Guarantano for 53 yards. Jauan Jennings finally reached the end zone on a screen play identical to one of Johnson’s first downs on the same drive. It was evident that Dominick Wood-Anderson is a utility that the coaches want to exploit. He only had two receptions for 21 yards, but one was an important first down on the first scoring drive.
Offensive Line: C-
This group continues to look putrid. Trey Smith pancakes are about the only thing fans have to be excited about thus far. Jerome Carvin had a nice game, but had to come out briefly in the first quarter. He eventually returned to the game. The unit struggled getting a consistent push between the tackles. Other than mop-up duty, Tennessee’s success came from attacking the edge. Drew Richmond was a liability in this game. The senior collected penalties like Anontio Cromartie creates kids. He had two holding penalties and could have had a third if UTEP hadn’t declined on a third-and-long that resulted in a punt on fourth down. He also used a cut-block inside the UTEP 10 for what would have been a Jordan touchdown. The drive resulted in a field goal instead.
Defensive Line: B
This group had a solid day. They arguably had the best day on the defensive side of the ball based on volume. They were certainly the most active. Alexis Johnson was called for an offsides penalty on the first defensive possession. He recovered by making some key stops against UTEP’s rushing attack. The redshirt senior finished with five tackles. Paul Bain was also a force at times. Poor tackling and penalties keep this group from a better grade. Matthew Butler had an inexcusable late hit in the third quarter. The defensive front forced pressure two plays later (third down) for a near sack. This group worked hard chasing down elusive UTEP quarterback Kai Locksley.
This unit was up and down. Darrin Kirkland, Jr. should have had an interception on the first defensive possession, but he was probably just as surprised as everyone else by Locksley’s decision to throw. The redshirt junior also had three tackles and a sack. Daniel Bituli finally made an impact in the second quarter that resulted in a loss of five yards and a fourth down. He finished with six total tackles. Jonathan Kongbo was somewhat effective getting pressure. However, when forced to read an assignment and go one-on-one with a ball carrier, he looked liked he was trying to tackle a crazed chicken. He whiffed on two tackles on the same drive. Deandre Johnson was scolded by coach Jeremy Pruitt for what apparently looked like not getting off the field in time on a third down. He redeemed himself later in the game with a huge hit that resulted in a loss of yardage.
UTEP came into the contest as the worst passing attack in the FBS. It was no surprise that the Vols’ secondary avoided embarrassment. Yet, the defensive backs looked really good when challenged. There were several passes deflected and the unit looked strong against deep balls in one-on-one coverage. Nigel Warrior dropped what would have been an interception. This group helped the defense hold Locksley to a total of 39 yards on 22 attempts.
Special Teams: C+
Outside of a Callaway turnover, this unit was solid. Callaway had a decent 11-yard return on a short field inside midfield. His next return wasn’t profitable. He dropped a fair catch in Tennessee territory. Punter Joe Doyle punted six times for a 39-yard average. He pinned UTEP inside the 20 four times. Brent Cimaglia nailed a 38-yard field goal for the Vols’ first score. He made all his extra point attempts. The punt coverage unit narrowly escaped running into the kicker on one play, but maintained consistent pressure all day. However, they only averaged only 1.7 yards on three returns.