We don’t have a game this weekend, but we do have a chance to take a step back and evaluate what we’ve seen so far out of the Tennessee Volunteers in 2018. It’s been an obvious struggle, but we are starting to see signs of development.
Over the next couple of days, I’ll go through each position group and grade what I’ve seen. First up: the offense.
Jarrett Guarantano hasn’t been awful, but he hasn’t been particularly good either. It’s an interesting evaluation, because I don’t think his offensive line or offensive coordinator Tyson Helton have done much to help him. Guarantano is a much more confident player than he was at this time last year, but you still see his hesitancy in the pocket come out from time to time.
The passing game has taken some steps forward, but it’s still lacking the consistency and explosion needed to really be feared. Guarantano has proven capable of attacking down the field, so hopefully Helton open things up in the second half of the season.
For now, Tennessee seems content playing conservative. Guarantano’s 63 percent completion percentage looks good and is up from last year. His yards per attempt is also trending in the right direction. But again, it’s more of a sum of all parts situation here. He’s being sacked at a rate of nearly eight percent, playing behind a leaky offensive line. To be fair to Helton, it’s hard to dial up anything down the field without consistent protection.
As I’ll get into more below, the Vols won’t go far until they get that unit fixed.
Running Backs: B+
Tim Jordan and Ty Chandler have been the bright spots of the offense so far. Jeremy Banks has certainly flashed, but has yet to prove capable of hanging onto the football. Madre London has settled into a short-yardage role.
Going forward, Chandler needs to be the feature guy, in my opinion. He just offers a level of athletic ability that the others don’t, as you saw against Georgia. Jordan has been a pleasant surprise, along with Banks. I’d be interested in getting Banks more work, but he’s never going to play full time until he can tuck the ball away.
These four — mainly Jordan and Chandler — will continue to be the focal point of the offense going forward. Hopefully they get a little more help from the offensive line in the second half of the season. In the meantime, I think it’s important to get Chandler his touches in space, perhaps coming from the passing game. Tyson Helton did this against Georgia and Chandler turned it into six points.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B+
The numbers aren’t big for them, but they’ve made some plays when given the opportunity to do so. Josh Palmer is developing nicely, while Jauan Jennings is working to get back to form. Marquez Callaway is still the alpha of the group and could stand to see even more targets, assuming he’s able to come back healthy after the Georgia game.
Dominick Wood-Anderson hasn’t been quite the factor in the passing game that we thought he would be. They’ve primarily used him in short-yardage situations. Again, we’re all waiting for Helton to open things up. Tennessee has the athletes on the perimeter to do so, but they don’t have the ability to protect Guarantano to attack down the field. Until they get that, the receiver group will continue to suffer in terms of numbers.
Offensive Line: F
I’ll be blunt — the offensive line just hasn’t been good enough. Until they can create a consistent push, this offense is going to struggle as I noted with every group above.
The loss of Brandon Kennedy was a big blow for this group, totally mixing up the formula for the starting five once again. That depth will be tested even more with the loss of Riley Locklear for a couple of weeks, at least.
Helton has proven that he’s going to stick to the run no matter what and this offensive line has simply been awful in the run game. They’re unable to get a consistent push and reach the second level, leaving the running backs with little to work with. They’re young and inexperienced, but it’s really important to start seeing signs of progress soon.