Winning 14-3 against the Charlotte 49ers in Neyland Stadium inspires confidence with absolutely nobody. While complaining about wins should never be commonplace, Tennessee fans have every right to do so after Saturday’s showing. In what may have been the last win of the season, Tennessee looked greatly frustrated against a C-USA team who was 4-4 heading into the contest.
This will not be a diatribe of an article. Instead, we’ll note the limited takeaways from what was expected to be an easy victory.
Marquez Callaway had a very honest answer in the postgame session.
Marquez Callaway with the most honest answer at Tennessee’s postgame presser.— Jesse Simonton (@JesseReSimonton) November 3, 2018
“I think we underestimated Charlotte.” pic.twitter.com/PJQetZSrb9
While that’s somewhat relieving for Tennessee fans, it’s certainly not good. Games like Charlotte are prime opportunities to correct issues before facing off against more talented and generally tougher opponents. It should not be a total cakewalk, but there should be chances to experiment and shuffle players around to try and find where they make the most impact. That’s especially crucial when you have three games left and need two in order to make a bowl game.
This has been an ongoing struggle for the team throughout the season. It won’t completely change until the team is mostly Pruitt’s players, but there is still something to be said for convincing players to buy in. There are no more games that can serve as wake up calls. It’s on the players to decide whether they want another 4-win season or improvement.
Offensive Line Future
I’ve got bad news for any Tennessee fan thinking that true freshmen in 2019 will radically change the outlook of the offensive line. It is looking like 2020 will be the earliest to expect an above average group.
Immediate turnarounds are quite rare on the offensive line. Given what we’ve seen through nine games, it’s obvious that injuries to Trey Smith and Brandon Kennedy were even more devastating than previously thought. Drew Richmond’s progress is encouraging and getting reps for someone like Jerome Carvin is also a positive. But at the end of the day, this is an offensive line which got repeatedly beat up by Charlotte and could not find a silver lining. They were in negative rushing yard territory until the final drive of the game. They still commit unnecessary penalties as well, which is a coaching issue.
Recruiting results should give hope in the “gaining talent” category. But that talent still needs an adjustment period. For now, Tennessee fans will have to expect a subpar line for the next couple of season. Better to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed.
Jarrett Guarantano and his receivers have been mentioned in this series multiple times. While they had a fine outing on Saturday, they did not warrant any special recognition. Instead, Tennessee’s special teams are the lone spot on the team that looked promising against Charlotte.
Mainly because Marquez Callaway showed what he could do as a punt returner if given even the smallest amount of room. He continues to be a dynamic athlete anywhere they put him, and his first touchdown came on an 82-yard return down the right sideline. The offense needs as much help as it can get, so if Callaway can help flip field position or even put some points on the board, it might be the difference between a loss and a win.
Punter Joe Doyle is also an unsung hero. He got an unsettling amount of work against Charlotte, but he averaged over 40 yards on seven attempts. Four of those landed inside the Charlotte 25-yard line.