The Vols took down C-USA opponent Charlotte yesterday to improve to 4-5 overall. The win wasn’t pretty, but as head coach Jeremy Pruitt would remind you, a win’s a win. Here are three things we learned:
1. The injuries to Trey Smith and Brandon Kennedy proved fatal for the offense
Life without Trey Smith and Brandon Kennedy on the offensive line is a life that no Tennessee fan or Jarrett Guarantano wants to live. The absence of those lineman yesterday proved fatal to the Tennessee offense. The Vols managed to rack up only 20 yards rushing while giving up two sacks and nine tackles-for-loss.
Right now, the Vols’ offensive line is just one big, jumbled mess. In the absence of Smith and Kennedy, the Vols are currently shuffling just about the entire offensive line roster in-and-out of different positions trying to find their best five guys. When you are constantly shuffling guys about on the line, there are obviously going to be some inconsistencies and that was evident on Saturday night. The offensive line constantly looked out of sorts and sometimes even lost against the Charlotte front-seven.
Going forward, this a very concerning issue. Right now, the Vols are two wins away from a bowl game, but only have three games left. It is crunch time and the Vols cannot afford another game with only 20 yards rushing if they would like to be playing in the postseason.
2. The defense is slowly, but surely coming along
I know Tennessee played Charlotte, but holding any team to only three points is nothing to scoff at.
After shoddy performances against Alabama and South Carolina, the defense bounced back and looked like what a Pruitt defense should. This impressive performance started up front where the Vols managed to amass three sacks and eight tackles-for-loss. The rush defense was particularly good. The Vols held Charlotte to just 92 yards rushing on 37 attempts. Kyle Phillips and Bryce Thompson both had standout performances, picking up a sack each.
This performance by the defense was much-needed to give the defense confidence before they face Kentucky and Missouri. Stopping the Wildcats’ Benny Snell and the Tigers’ Drew Lock will be no easy task, but if the Vols can manage to replicate their performance from Saturday, they just might have a shot to make the postseason.
3. The Vols need to find a way to get the ball to Marquez Callaway more
The good news is that Marquez Callaway returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown, the bad news is that it was his first touchdown of the season. Callaway is one of the best and brightest playmakers on this team and the Vols need to find a way to get him the ball.
It is inexcusable that a player with the skill of Callaway got his first touchdown in November. So far this year, Callaway has been targeted 30 times, but only has 402 yards receiving. Most of the passes thrown to him rarely go over 15 yards. For me, the most disappointing thing is the lack of looks Callaway has gotten in the end zone. His best trait as a receiver is being able to jump up and contest a 50/50 ball, but Tennessee has yet to throw it his way in the end zone. If the Vols want to win more games and make a bowl, they will need to get the ball into the hands of their playmakers including Callaway.