Just a week after putting up 212 yards rushing against a pretty good Kentucky defense, Tennessee followed up that performance with just 82 yards on the ground Saturday against Missouri. And to be honest, a good chunk of that came on the final drive in garbage time with the Vols down by 33 points.
The offensive line reverted back to their Charlotte game performance, seemingly incapable of blocking anything with any consistency. That’s been a familiar theme of the season, but the frustrating part is that we’ve seen this group play well in stretches. It certainly wasn’t happening on Saturday, however.
“I think it was just all-around [bad],” Tennessee offensive lineman Ryan Johnson said. “It wasn’t just one particular thing. It was just poor execution across the board. It was no particular position, no particular player. We just … we just got beat. They played better than us tonight. They’ve got really good coaches and really good players, and we just didn’t raise the bar to their level.” (Quote via 247 Sports)
It’s puzzling to watch this group have success against the 42nd ranked Kentucky run defense, then turn around a week later and look clueless against the 30th ranked Missouri run defense. Down two starters and with younger guys in the mix, inconsistencies are expected, but this was a big swing in the wrong direction.
According to Jeremy Pruitt, the struggles in the run game may have shined a light on a bigger issue with the offense.
“When they have more in there than we can block, we don’t need to be running, which we did multiple times tonight,” Pruitt said. “We’ve got to have ways that we can spit the ball out on the perimeter. Whether it’s bubbles, slants, stabs — we didn’t take advantage of that all the time. When you’ve got six to block seven and you hand the ball off in there — sometimes, hey, you’re good enough and it works. We weren’t today.”
It’s unclear if Pruitt is talking about offensive coordinator Tyson Helton or his quarterbacks here, but he’d probably tell you both share the blame. Jarrett Guarantano was knocked out of this one early on, forcing Keller Chryst into action. Pruitt noted that the two received equal reps in practice, but it’s entirely possible that Chryst hasn’t seen enough action to make the correct checks at the line of scrimmage. Pruitt has made it clear that there’s more to playing quarterback than just throwing the football.
It’s entirely possible that Guarantano’s absence ended up hurting more than just the passing game. Getting into the right play is a big deal and Helton and Pruitt clearly place a decent amount of responsibility on the quarterback in that regard.