The great news for Tennessee football is that they now have a bye week before heading to the plains to take on the Auburn Tigers. Not only have the Tigers looked vulnerable, but Tennessee improved against the Georgia Bulldogs and will now use their bye week to try and unseat the current top-10 team.
What areas need to get cleaned up? Which ones will hopefully be strengths for the rest of the season? Despite a lopsided final score, there’s more positive news than expected.
This category holds about four different factors, so we’ll try and group them together.
Evaluating any segment of this offense will be difficult without understanding that the offensive line is struggling to put together a consistent outing. But we knew that already, so now it’s about Tyson Helton making the adjustments he can and the skill position players doing the right things even if the end result isn’t much. It’s complicated but it’s the best we can do.
So that being said, there’s a little bit of blame to go around to everyone. Helton’s playcalling is conservative and that doesn’t seem to be changing. He’ll flash some twists every now and then, but for the most part he is limiting downfield shots and trying to figure out ways to work out his power-run scheme.
Yet it’s at the margins where Helton’s coaching has disappointed. Tennessee punted five times in the first half, which isn’t unexpected—but two of those punts came after the team faced a 3rd and 1 situation. One ended up with Madre London getting stuffed and another was an incomplete pass. It’s the small differences that ultimately make a huge impact, and Helton’s unit hasn’t gotten it down yet.
Yet those wishing to pin all the problems on Helton are not addressing a blatant truth: Jarrett Guarantano can sometimes make the offense look worse than it really is. He holds the ball far too long and waits until the absolute last moment to throw, even when he could hit a receiver in stride and turn it into a bigger gain. He stands tall in the pocket, but more often than not that means being a statue. There’s various other small tweaks he could make, but you get the point.
Something has to change on the offense if this team wants to win another game that’s not Charlotte. No one is clamoring to completely overhaul the system just yet, but shifting the focus away from trying to impose your will up front would benefit everyone.
How long will Helton have to get it up and running? Pruitt already mentioned in his press conference that he wasn’t happy with some of the offensive plays that went for negative yardage. He will give Helton a chance to fix things over the next couple of seasons, but they aren’t working with unlimited time.
Getting beat by 26 points again typically wouldn’t encourage anyone. Yet with 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Tennessee was not getting blown out. In fact, they had made it a competitive game. The defense looked stout against a Georgia offense with firepower at every single position. The offense wasn’t as encouraging but Ty Chandler had just turned a screen pass into a touchdown.
Sure, the final score ended up being 38-12. The next few games might produce similar results. But this team could’ve easily folded after going down 24-0 against the #2 team in the nation. Instead, they continued to fight and forced Georgia to play a full four quarters. Now Tennessee enters the bye week with an optimism that their effort will keep them in every game—if not help them pull off an upset along the way.
It’s not much, but it’s something.
Defensive Pass Rush
The pass rush issues are not completely fixed. Darrell Taylor had an excellent game, but his teammates were significantly behind him in that regard. Yet even finding one guy who can consistently pressure a quarterback makes the defense that much more threatening.
There were also signs of improvement from the front seven that indicate they’re able to withstand SEC play, though maybe not for a full four quarters without much help from the offense. They’re physical and made Georgia’s loaded backfield really work for their yards. By the end, Georgia had successfully worn them down, but that’s an issue of depth and sheer number of reps. When not put into bad situations, this defense has looked promising. Now they just need the other side of the ball to be average.