The Vols finished up their final tune-up game before heading into a daunting five-game stretch that will define the 2018 season.
Both sides of the ball seemed to finally click, but turnovers and penalties left points off the board in what could’ve an even more decisive defeat than the final score of 24-0.
There was improvement across the board and that will reflect in this week’s final grades.
Tyson Helton’s offense racked up over 500 yards of total offense with 345 of those yards coming on the ground. Tennessee did what they wanted all day long, until they decided to shoot themselves in the foot.
A personal foul penalty inside the 10-yard line and a Jeremy Banks fumble on the UTEP one-yard line left the Vols with just three points after their first two trips inside the Miners’ 10 to begin the game.
But Tennessee responded nicely after the Banks fumble. It took just three plays for them to find the end zone after a Tim Jordan touchdown.
The Vols had outgained the Miners 259-85 in the first half, but held on to a modest 10-0 lead heading into halftime.
From there on out, it was a bit dicey when it came to offensive production. The Vols managed only 47 yards on the next 11 plays before Ty Chandler exploded for an 81-yard touchdown run in the second half.
After Chandler’s run, the Vols had two possessions but this time gained 39 yards on 11 plays.
They were finally able to get a long scoring drive put together in the fourth quarter that consisted of 11 plays for 71 yards and ended with a four-yard strike to Jauan Jennings.
Overall the Vols offense was effective, but not efficient in areas that mattered most. Penalties, the inability to convert in the redzone, and a 33% third-down conversion rate really put a damper on what was a good day for the offense.
Final Grade: 3.0 (B)
Jeremy Pruitt finally got a full performance from his defense and the results were encouraging, despite the opponent.
It’s always a good day when you record a shutout and the Vols did just that.
Tennessee allowed only seven first downs and 134 total yards on offense. UTEP was a dismal 2-14 on third down. They also recorded two sacks, matching their season total coming into the game.
The only thing stopping this from becoming a complete performance was the lack of turnovers. The Vols must find a way to force their opponents into mistakes if they want to win on a regular basis in the SEC.
But turnovers aren’t always a reflection of how the defense plays, it’s more of a reflection of the offense.
That saves the grade for the defense and they get another “A” for the second week in a row.
Final Grade: 4.0 (A)
Brent Cimaglia continued to do his thing and is now a perfect 2-2 on the season. The coverage units were very good and didn’t allow many plays whatsoever.
The downfall of the unit is one of the Vols’ best offensive players in Marquez Callaway. Callaway muffed a punt at the Tennessee 33 and it was recovered by UTEP.
If this were an SEC game, there is little doubt that the opposing team would’ve driven right down the field and scored off the play. Fortunately this was only UTEP and the Vols were bailed out by a lesser opponent.
That simply can’t happen and Pruitt let Callaway know that on the sideline.
Final Grade: 1.0 (D)
Other than Pruitt blowing up on DeAndre Johnson and Callaway - he had good reason for doing so to both players - this was probably the most comfortable we’ve seen the staff so far this season.
Tennessee set season-highs across the board in both offensive and defensive production. This staff may finally have a foundation to build off of after three weeks of evaluating their young team.
Improvement is key for this staff and as long as that can be seen every week, then they are doing their job.
Final Grade: 4.0 (A)
Overall Grade: 2.75 (C+)
The team looked good in big moments, but shrank in crucial ones. The fumbles, penalties, and the inefficiency really took a toll on the overall product of the game. If you rack up over 500 yards of offense on any day, you better hope you can score more than just 24 points.
With that being said, it was a good effort and now the Vols gear up for Florida this week.