Three weeks have passed and we’ve watched the Vols play three games, here is what we know about the team so far:
Jarrett Guarantano is finally shaping up to be the quarterback we thought he would be
After a turbulent 2017, many people questioned Guarantano’s ability. During the offseason, the fanbase was split on who they wanted at quarterback: Guarantano, Keller Chryst, or Will McBride. The coaching staff ultimately ended up choosing Guarantano as the starter and so far it looks to be a good decision.
Through three games, he is 39-for-54 (72.2 percent) passing for 494 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He has a passer efficiency rating of 161.3 and a total QBR of 61.4 which ranks 53rd out of all quarterbacks in the country and ninth in the SEC. He has shown great pocket presence and has seemingly resolved all of his issues from last season. The future looks bright for him.
The offensive line is worse than we thought it would be
Going into the season with the acquisition of Alabama graduate transfer Brandon Kennedy and the re-acquisition of Freshman All-American Trey Smith, many fans thought the Vols could put together a pretty decent offense line.
We were wrong.
From, literally, the first offensive play of the season, this offensive line has been an issue. Many guys look clueless and some just don’t even look like they’re trying. The Vols have already had to go to their bench for help after Kennedy suffered a season-ending knee injury.
So far this season, the Vols have given up five sacks. Five sacks in three games isn’t that bad until you look at the competition they have faced. Tennessee has faced an FCS defense and two bottom-tier FBS defenses. Last season, West Virginia ranked 96th and UTEP ranked 106th in the S&P+ defense ratings. You just shutter when you think about what Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, and South Carolina are going to do to this line.
Tennessee has four very solid running backs
Going into the season, little was known about the running backs. Tennessee lost its leading rusher from 2017 and its running backs coach. Despite only seeing limited action the season before, Ty Chandler was the most-known commodity of the entire group entering 2018.
The Vols quickly learned they have four (!) SEC-caliber running backs on the roster. Tim Jordan, Chandler, Madre London, and Jeremy Banks have all rushed for over 100 yards this season. They also all have at least one touchdown and all of them are averaging over 4.5 yards per carry. Offensive coordinator Tyson Helton is surely sticking to his word when he said he wanted Tennessee to be a dominant rushing team. Through three games, the Vols are averaging 44 rushing attempts and 221 rushing yards.
The inability to sack the quarterback will prove problematic
Last season, the Vols’ pass rush was underwhelming to say the least. They only managed to sack the quarterback 22 times in 12 games which was good for 92nd nationally. The inability to sack the quarterback proved deadly for the defense. The opposing quarterbacks were constantly allowed all the time in the world to make passes, extend drives, and eventually score points.
So far this season, it’s been more of the same. Multiple times throughout the first three games, the Vols have let opposing quarterbacks dance around the pocket and find an open receiver. This was painfully evident in the season opener versus West Virginia. Multiple times during that game, the Vols defensive line was able to break past the offensive line, but struggled to get their hands on Will Grier and bring him down. This resulted in Grier being able to extend drives, score points, and keep the defense on the field. If the Vols don’t figure out how to piece together a sack, they are going to have a tough time against the likes of Tua Tagovailoa, Drew Lock, Jake Fromm, and Jarrett Stidham.
The secondary is proving to be a liability
In 2017, Tennessee’s pass defense ranked third in the nation. When taken out of context, this stat looks great, but every Tennessee fan knows this is because opponents chose to run the ball against Tennessee’s poor run defense. This resulted in Tennessee’s opponents only throwing the ball 279 times last season which ranked 126th nationally. The Tennessee secondary was largely untested last season and it is starting to show this season.
Through three games, Tennessee’s secondary has been suspect against formidable opponents. The freshman corners may have bright futures, but for now they are still freshmen making mistakes. Many fans expected this type of play out of the young corners, but not from the veteran safeties. So far, Micah Abernathy and Nigel Warrior have been problematic. Multiple times this season, both have looked lost out in space and have struggled to tackle when asked to do so. Things only look to get worse later this season when the Vols face multiple prolific passing offenses such as Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri.