The Vols’ disappointing loss to Missouri on Saturday revealed some things, most of which indicate that Tennessee still has a long way to go when it comes to competing consistently in the SEC. Here is what we learned from the 50-17 drubbing:
Vols Aren’t Built To Rally
There was hope that the Vols could hang with Missouri and notch a sixth win that would lock up a bowl bid. Most of that optimism centered around the fact that Tennessee has knocked off two ranked opponents this year. The Vols led for most, if not all of those games. Defeating Missouri at home was realistic. It became impossible once the deficit reached two touchdowns.
With essentially no efficiency from the run game, Tennessee becomes one-dimensional. This game showed how quickly the defense can break. Jeremy Pruitt was able to contain Missouri’s offensive attack early on. But after multiple three-and-outs, the dam started to break. By the time offensive coordinator Tyson Helton became coherent, the defense was getting gassed. The hurry-up offense commanded by Drew Lock proved to be unstoppable for a defense that featured a young secondary. Tennessee simply does not have the weapons to wipe out even a modest lead, no matter the opponent.
Freshmen Are Still Freshmen
Freshman cornerbacks Bryce Thompson and Alontae Taylor have impressed this year. On Saturday, they didn’t. They weren’t alone, though. This was the worst performance from the secondary since the West Virginia game. Missouri offensive coordinator Derek Dooley had a solid gameplan and Lock thrived. He kept finding receivers in isolation with Tennessee’s defensive backs. The matchups were too advantageous for the Tigers.
Missed tackles and blown assignments started to plague the Vols once again. Taylor had a rare beat on a deep route and Thompson had a key miss on a third down that resulted in a 21-yard gain and a first down. The defense, as a whole, became a liability after the first quarter. The offense provided three three-and-outs and possessed the ball for less than four minutes in the first quarter. That’s with six run plays factored in. Once Missouri emphasized its hurry-up offense, the defense didn’t stand a chance, especially the secondary. Lock was 21-of-30 for 257 yards, but it felt like a thousand.
The good news for the Vols is that the playing time will play dividends in the long run for the inexperienced players. Neither Taylor nor Thompson even played their respective positions last year in high school.
Tuttle Is A Human Magnet
In lighter news, Shy Tuttle has mastered the art of blocking kicks. The senior blocked his third kick of the year on an extra point attempt with a minute and-a-half to go in the second quarter.
The play kept Missouri from reaching a double-digit lead. The offense responded by reaching field goal range on the first play of the drive, which stalled when Keller Chryst threw a crucial interception.
Tuttle made sure to leave a mark on Senior Day. He finished with three total tackles and joined fellow senior Kyle Phillips in a tackle for loss. Tuttle’s block was the only bright spot on that side of the ball.
A Quarterback Couldn’t Save The Vols
As fans continue to beat a dead horse by arguing over the quarterback position, enough sample has been displayed to show that neither option was going to lead this team to victory on Saturday. The offense tallied a whopping -17 yards when Jarrett Guarantano was in the game. Credit Helton for the disadvantage.
However, one could argue that the playcalling was catered to a physically limited Guarantano. The nature of Guarantano’s health going into the Missouri game is uncertain. What is certain is that it’s worse now. Our Trey Wallace reports that Guarantano is “day-to-day” after suffering an injury that forced him to leave the game in the first quarter.
The gameplan drastically changed when Chryst entered the game. The graduate transfer provided a spark to open up the second quarter. His first possession resulted in a scoring drive that gave the Vols promise. An emphasis was placed on the passing game. Chryst looked sharp early on by making quick decisions and connecting on some deep throws, but the flame fizzled. With Tennessee down nine, Chryst made the aforementioned errant throw to an open Marquez Callaway. The severely under-thrown ball resulted in setting Missouri up for a touchdown right before the half.
Sixteen points was just too much to overcome for a struggling offense that needed to keep up with the high octane of Missouri and Lock. The difference in the Tennessee quarterbacks wasn’t going to contribute to the Vols’ success in this game. Pruitt simply had bigger issues at hand.
Full Of Inconsistency
Part of dealing with such a young team is living and dying by their youthful tendencies. The 2018 Vols are a picture of that ebb and flow.
Two of Tennessee’s biggest wins are sandwiched between devastating performances. Auburn was preceded by the Georgia and Florida losses. What followed was an embarrassment against Alabama and a heart-breaker versus South Carolina.
The Kentucky win was wedged between a lackluster defeat of Charlotte and this epic blowout. The Vols have an obvious trend of inconsistency, but this game provided the opportunity for Tennessee to break the mold. They didn’t. The Vols’ performance on Saturday revealed that they are a reflection of youth and inexperience.
Sure, there is talent in spots, especially at receiver. But, the Vols are too one-dimensional on offense. The Vols are averaging 5.5 yards per play on the year. Take away the UTEP and ETSU games, and that number drops to 5.1.
In terms of their rushing acumen, the stats are even more underwhelming. The Vols averaged 2.9 YPC against Missouri, despite a 33-yard run by Ty Chandler. Their season average is now resting at a pedestrian 3.6 YPC. Chandler equaled the net total of Tennessee’s total rushing yardage with 82 yards. The sophomore has been the only dynamic option in the backfield and the offensive line isn’t built to emphasize the run.
Youth and other deficits haunt this team, but they don’t come into play every game. Fortunately for the Vols, an easier task presents itself this Saturday. Maybe they their unpredictable ways will be on the winning side of their erratic play.