I’m not sure what’s happened around here, but the team from the first two games of the season seems to have disappeared like how my mom’s dog does during a thunderstorm. The difference — we know where he goes when things get scary: Either the into the bathroom, on the rug that sits beside the tub, under the bed that’s in the back bedroom or as-close-to-directly-on-top-of my mom as he can.
So, where’d our football team go? The saying goes “when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” but it seems like the Vols “got going,” in the wrong direction.
I don’t know enough about coaching football to tell you where the blame lies. The coaches seem to be recruiting talented enough players, but are those players not being developed once they arrive on campus? Or are the players not executing what the coaches are teaching them?
It’s probably too early to tell, definitely at least, but the silly procedural penalties and bang-your-head-against-the-wall turnovers suggest the answer lies somewhere in the middle as it does with most “it’s either this or that,” scenarios.
Football is an aggressive game full of snap decisions made while running toward somebody with nothing but bad intentions. So, it’s inherently difficult to mesh that dynamic with discipline and good decision making. Unfortunately, that just kinda is what it is. Figure it out or do something else.
To save myself time, I’m just going to go through the first couple of miscues I noticed, and I’m focusing on the defense because the offense didn’t lose this game for Tennessee. Jarrett Guarantano was 13-24 for 162 yards and two TDs. Collectively, the Vols rushed for 139 yards on 38 carries, nearing a 4.0 yards per carry average. Gray had the lone offensive turnover that resulted in a Bama scope-and-score, and Brandon Kennedy had another penalty on a snap. Obviously one would rather those not occur, but after the last two weeks, this offense looked like a day at the beach. We can probably critique some clearly questionable play calls from Jim Chaney, but I don’t think he trusts QB1, whomever it is at the time, to not do something drastically bad and cost us points. So what’s the guy supposed to do?
(Except help develop one, just one QB who won’t outright lose you games in his 1.5 years back.)
The defense allowed nearly 600 yards to Mac Jones and the Bama offense, continued our running motif of late, missing almost countless tackles and leaving the middle of the field open as many times as you did with the front door when you were a kid right before your mom yelled “It’s either in or out! We ain’t doing both! Tryna cool the whole damn neighborhood. Nuh-uh, not us.”
I’m gonna share a graphic from PFF because it doesn’t contain any actual numbers or stats, but it shows what PFF thought of how the Vols offense played vs. how the defense played, Green is good, red is bad.
Alabama, just like Kentucky beat Tennessee’s defense in the middle of the field like a chef trying to tenderize a thick but stubborn cut of meat. Bama went 19/23 for 313 yards through the heart of the Vols defense, accounting for just about half of their total offensive output.
First, here’s the play that probably should have gotten Jaylen McCollough kicked out of the game. Naturally — it’s a pass in the middle of the field.
I found it odd that McCollough didn’t get called for targeting, considering the Vols safety led with his head and hit the Bama WR helmet to helmet. Regardless, this kind of mistake falls into the “I’d rather it not happen, but I can live with it,” because football is a violent sport, and it takes a special demeanor to play without fear. Those are the guys I want on my football team. The gladiators, the warriors, the alphas. That’s why I don’t get after Jeremy Banks when he makes a poor decision and drills a guy who was clearly out of bounds. These kind of players, hopefully, can be reigned it. Banks and McCollough can learn by doing and eventually, instinctively make the right play instead of the wrong one.
During the broadcast, Gary Danielson said Kentucky was six-for-six on slant passes against the Vols last week. So, naturally Bama attacked the middle of the field early, and McCullough made a bad decision. Maybe next time (or next season — he’s young) he’s there a couple steps earlier and breaks up the pass.
Okay, here’s another Bama throw down the middle — this one looks like it was in the 10-20 yard-range where the Tide hit on 8-of-10 passes for 155 yards.
(In this edition of “Things Nick Ponders at Night”: Pruitt is a DB coach at heart. So is Defensive Coordinator Derrick Ansley. We fired our DL coach. So, now we have less coaching for our defensive backs while them and the LBs can’t cover a WR with a Neyland-sized tarp. This thought process not only keeps me from sleeping but it also ignites enough cognitive dissonance to dang near burn down the apartment.)
You guys know me well enough by now that I only know what’s going on by what I see. If I’m a LB, and the guy circled in red is my coverage responsibility, I’m gonna tackle him before I let myself get caught on film, again, getting beat over the middle.
Even when a team doesn’t run the ball all that well, the fake handoff, or play-action pass, is an effective tool for deception. It forces the defenders to use their instincts against them. The defenders think the see the RB get the ball so the whole “see ball, get ball,” thing kicks in.
In this case, one of the LBs squared-off in black blitzes, but his counterpart steps forward due to the fake hand off, leaving more room for the Bama WR to get behind him. The safety also takes a step forward, and both he and the LB have lost position leverage on the crossing WR.
Pruitt’s defense strikes me as pretty complicated — with lots of “well if the WR does this, then you do this. But if he does that, then you do this other, different thing.”
So the safety coming up to support the run maybe isn’t even responsible for this WR. I’d say more than likely that was Hank T’s man, and he got burnt. I think Danielson alluded to such a situation in his post-play analysis.
But either way, whoever’s job it was to cover that guy didn’t do it cuz:
That’s a bad look. And even though the play ended up heading from the far side of the field to the near side of the field, it seems like the action in the middle of the field is what left the guy so open he stopped and bought some tacos, and then ate ‘em before anybody wearing orange decided to get in his way.
For the record, the guy who caught the ball is the one who replaced Jaylen Waddle after Waddle left the game with a gnarly injury. I didn’t want to call anymore visual attention to it, but it is indeed To’o To’o trailing a good five yards behind the wide out.
Here’s the whole play:
Because I’m tired, and this is already too long, I’m gonna skip the diagrams and just gif the next play. It demonstrates another inconsistent aspect of the Tennessee defense: tackling.
The DB did a good job of fighting off the I’m not sure if y’all noticed or not, but these are all plays from one Alabama drive. A shoulda-been penalty, bad middle-of-the-field defense and poor tackling occurring on one drive and in nearly strait linear succession.
Again, Alabama’s offense is good. QB Mac Jones is PFF’s No. 1 overall rated offensive player right now. But that doesn’t excuse the defense — a unit coming into the season that was supposed to be a strength — helping Bama beat us like we poisoned their mascot.
Take some time this week and thank whatever higher being you believe in and thank her, it, him, for this upcoming bye week. The Vols are wandering through the desert and need this week off more than they need water to drink. The Vols need this bye week like America needs you to get out and vote.