Now that the meltdowns have subsided, it’s time for an honest look at the Florida game and where Tennessee can find positivity/negativity for the future. The latter is obvious, while the former seems impossible.
But there are legitimately encouraging signs that Tennessee is improving in certain regards. It’s not enough to outweigh biggest worries of course. Each game still deserves an objective analysis and overview of what to expect for the future. We’ll get into the negatives first and then move to the positives (which do exist!).
Let’s jump right into it.
Florida’s front seven was the first true test for an offensive line which struggled during non-conference play. Whether it was a new scheme or rust, the hope for Tennessee was that it would all come together after in-game experience.
Well they failed the test by a large margin.
Tennessee’s offensive line suffers from a little bit of everything at the moment. They have some nice pieces who fit into what they want to run, but right now there are a couple of players who simply can’t do what Tyson Helton requires of the line. Power-running teams don’t need to hit home runs on every attempt—they just need minimal gains at the very least. If you surrender negative plays in this type of offense, it’s very hard to dig yourself out of a hole.
Schematically, there are some things Helton can do to evade the issue. Quicker developing plays, inverse play calls, etc. But the Florida tape showed what many feared: it wasn’t that much of a scheme issue. Players simply weren’t reaching their blocks or weren’t winning 1-on-1 battles.
Even worse, Florida’s defensive line is one of the weaker units on the schedule. It’s going to be tough sledding against basically every remaining SEC opponent.
Not all hope is lost, since offensive lines can progress throughout the year, and they can turn in surprising performances. It’s still not encouraging to see how they performed against the Gators. The situation up front is going to take a long time to improve, so strap in and be prepared for struggles.
Jarrett Guarantano’s Confidence
Getting hit early and often has been known to derail even the most promising of quarterback careers. Guarantano already suffered through one lame-duck coaching staff, and now he’s being forced to take shots in the pocket while the offense figures out its identity. Paired with a dirty hit by Cece Jefferson that knocked him out of the contest, and it’s starting to become a question of how much he can take.
Tennessee should focus on getting Guarantano back to high-percentage throws and helping him ease into a rhythm. He’s a fine quarterback when defenders aren’t in his face, but he does seem especially prone to bad decisions when they are. If this upcoming stretch of top-10 opponents leads to many more hits on him, his confidence might never recover.
Last week’s edition of this article mentioned the exact same factor in the “Worry” section. But I’ll admit, even I didn’t expect it to culminate in six turnovers. There’s a lot of luck involved in recovering fumbles and what not, yet there is absolutely a mental aspect to it as well. Sometimes players try to do too much and they end up being careless with the ball. One thing leads to another, and all of the sudden you’re minus-5 in the turnover margin.
Even things like missing an easy block or taking a bad angle can be rooted in mental mistakes. That’s not going to fly for Jeremy Pruitt, so his coaching staff needs to make sure that the players stick to the plan and don’t overreact to what will be a very challenging season.
Giving up 47 points to a very mediocre offense seems like an odd game to draw the conclusion that there was defensive improvement. This is yet another example of a box score not showing the full story.
Three turnovers inside Tennessee’s 25-yard line meant that Florida had an incredibly easy time punching it into the end zone. Yes, they could’ve technically held them to field goals or less, but that takes a truly elite defense. Absolutely no one is expecting that with Tennessee’s current situation. Maybe in the future, but not now.
I mentioned in a previous article that on 7 of the other 12 Florida drives, Tennessee’s defense allowed less than 30 yards and forced a punt. That’s a pretty good sign that the defense was more or less doing their job. There were some bad moments like Freddie Swain’s 65-yard touchdown reception, but on the whole the defense wasn’t consistently getting pushed around.
Rather unsurprisingly, when Tennessee was down by three scores and the offense could get absolutely nothing going, that’s when the Gators produced a lengthy drive.
The offenses will only get better from here on out. It’s imperative that the defense understands certain things are out of their control and that they need to go out and play to their fullest ability. Pruitt is a great defensive coach and he will have them playing well enough to give opposing offenses fits. As much as they’d like for their own offense to help them out a bit, sometimes it’s not in the cards.
Arguably the best position group on the team turned into the indisputably best position group on the team. Tennessee’s receivers gained consistent separation for most of the night, they just couldn’t rely on the offensive line to give the QB enough time to distribute the ball. That’s disappointing, but it shouldn’t take away from what Tennessee has in its arsenal.
Expecting coaches to change their gameplans wholesale is not a realistic possibility. That being said, Helton really should consider coming out with more passes early on and utilizing quicker developing plays. Tennessee absolutely has the receivers to do it. If he’s unwilling to do so, it probably doesn’t bode well for his future with the team.