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Orange And White Game Recap: First-Team Offense Performs Well In 34-7 Victory

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A quick look at today’s spring game.

NCAA Football: Tennesee Practice
Wide receiver Marquez Callaway had a good spring game.
Caitie McMekin-USA TODAY Sports

Today marked the official start to the 2018 season for the Tennessee Volunteers.

With a new coaching staff in town, things were different than in the past. Most importantly, this game would be played as a straight-up, actual football game instead of some sort of dog and pony show.

How did things shake out? Check it out below:

Quarterback Play

Jarrett Guarantano and Will McBride went head-to-head, but it was painfully clear that Guarantano is eons ahead of McBride.

Guarantano’s strengths are pretty obvious. When he has a pocket and time, he is an extremely confident, accurate passer and makes very good decisions with the ball.

He also seemed to be more willing to use his legs to extend plays during this game than he did last season. At one point, he tucked the ball down and sprinted for a 17-yard gain.

He doesn't have the strongest arm and his delivery may result in a few interceptions, but those chances should be offset by his decision-making.

Offensive coordinator Tyson Helton called a lot of shotgun plays and deep drops for Guarantano, while mixing in some other under center plays as well. Whether this is the result from offensive line concerns or tailoring to Guarantano’s game, it seems that Helton has devised a way for Guarantano to get some much-needed rhythm behind center.

McBride was terrible until the penultimate drive of game for the White Team. That’s it.

Offense

The first team offense played pretty well. The offensive line had a pretty good day, consistently opening creases and lanes for the running backs, while also giving Guarantano plenty of time to throw. The offensive line did give up two sacks on one drive, but one of those sacks is easily credited to Guarantano’s inability to get rid of the ball.

The running backs, as previously thought, look to be the strength of the offense. Tim Jordan stole the show. He showed excellent power, vision, speed, quick feet - all of the necessary traits to be a great back - while leading the team in rushing. His most impressive play of the day came on a five yard touchdown run where he made a defender miss in the backfield and powered his way into the end zone soon after.

Guarantano and the team’s receivers seem to have developed a good connection over the offseason, especially Marquez Callaway and Jordan Palmer. Guarantano looked to them consistently throughout the game, including hooking up with Callaway on the game’s first touchdown on a beautiful fade pass into the end zone.

The tight ends made some great plays, too. Austin Pope had a nice catch and run on a pass in the flat that set up a Ty Chandler touchdown and Eli Wolf made a beautiful back-shoulder grab that was tipped for the game’s final touchdown.

Overall, the offense looked pretty good. However, this is against one of the worst defenses in the SEC last season, so there is still a lot left to figure out.

Defense

The defensive performance was no where near as encouraging as the offensive display today.

Pruitt was visibly frustrated with the defense in the first half and he made that quite clear at halftime. No pass rush, a lack of an interior presence, and mistakes on the back end left the new head coach pretty upset.

Both Daniel Bituli and Darrin Kirkland Jr. were out, but that doesn’t give the rest of the defense an excuse to have a bad performance. With this team’s recent string of injuries over the years, every player should know that their name could be called at any moment.

Pruitt expressed concern with his defense earlier this year and now we know why. The best sequence was a goal-line stand in which the line held up on the first two plays of a first-and-goal situation, only to be shoved back on third down to allow Chandler to punch through for the touchdown.

Tennessee can’t rely solely on its offense to win games this season. The defense has to step up at some point.

Special Teams

Brett Cimaglia was perfect, nailing both of his attempts from 40+ yards (43, 41). At least we know that the Vols may have a good kicking game this season.

Pruitt’s Reactions and Comments

Pruitt was all over the field and dialed in throughout the entire game. He was particularly hard on the White Team defense due to their lack of continuity and consistency in the first half. It was easy to see his displeasure with the unit.

When asked by Gene Wojciechowski about his first-team defense at halftime, Pruitt’s response was simple.

“Nobody’s responded, aight?” - head coach Jeremy Pruitt.

He then rubbed it in even more, later saying:

“I didn't see a lot of folks flying around. The Orange Team has executed on offense a little better, obviously, than the White team - but I think that has more to do with the White defense” - Pruitt

At the end of the game, it was pretty obvious how he felt about the first-team defensive performance.

“We had some guys who competed out there and some guys that didn’t. We’ll watch the tape and find out who did” - Pruitt

Pruitt may be fiery and intense, but he can keep his cool when things are going wrong. He is the anti-Butch, which is exactly what this team needs.

Final Thoughts

  • The offense looked surprisingly efficient. The offensive line played well and that will only get better when Trey Smith returns.
  • Jarrett Guarantano has definitely improved, but we won’t know what he can really do until SEC play begins. Quinten Dormady had a great spring game last year too....
  • Tim Jordan and Ty Chandler are going to be a headache for opposing teams.
  • Marquez Callaway and Jordan Palmer seem to have improved their game over the offseason, both made tough, physical catches that also took agility to finish the play.
  • Greg Emerson needs to get back on defense.
  • The defensive backfield looked scattered pretty often.
  • This coaching staff is not only no-nonsense, but they tailor their gameplans around the players they have, not the scheme they want to instill.