The phrase “South Carolina after a bye week” is enough to give Tennessee fans a nightmare. It was last season’s inexplicable loss to the Gamecocks after a bye week that sent the Butch Jones era at Tennessee into a spiral.
This year, some thought it might serve as the end of the Jones era. In a move to change the trajectory of this season, the Vols turned to a new quarterback to spark a stagnant offense.
Tennessee Game Grades South Carolina Edition
It’s awfully hard to figure out what is wrong with the offense. The Vols have two and half full games without scoring a touchdown. Georgia is certainly an elite defense. South Carolina is certainly not. And this, off of a bye week. Its a combination of a lot of small things. Penalties, poor and slow decision making,
Offensive Stat of the Game: 0 TDs in four trips to the red zone.
The story of the day was the change at quarterback. Jarrett Guarantano is now running the Vols’ offense. It didn’t spark the change Vols fans wanted. Guarantano is clearly a better fit for the scheme that Tennessee runs, but the offense couldn’t convert when they had successful drives. As for Guarantano, he proved to be a better runner than Quinten Dormady, but was caught from behind by defensive linemen twice. And after a solid passing start in the first quarter, he couldn’t get anything going in the second half. His biggest issue was decision-making.
The redshirt freshman held the ball in the pocket far too long. That was the reason for at least three sacks in the second half. And deep in the red zone in the first half, he ran out of bounds on a bootleg rather than throwing the ball away. That cost the offense seven yards on a goal-to-go situation.
Late in the game, trailing by three, in a critical situation, Guarantano passed up a sure first down scramble to stay in a crowded pocket. He fumbled again on the first play off the last drive as well.
Guarantano showed promise on the final drive, but — as with Tennessee this season — couldn’t get it done in the end.
Running Backs: B-
After the first two drives of the game, South Carolina’s defense was determined to shut down Tennessee’s talented running back combination of John Kelly and Ty Chandler. And they were largely successful. Kelly and Chandler were able to must a few yards against the Gamecocks in the second half, but couldn’t overcome the constant pressure of the front seven. When given the chance — even the slightest of holes — they were able to consistently produce positive yards.
Not many data points here. The receivers were mostly quiet on the day. There were only four receptions by receivers in the game. Whether it was Guarantano making slow decisions or the receivers not being able to gain separation (probably both) doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is Tennessee’s pass game must be somewhat effective of defenses will continue to sell out to stop the potentially potent running attack.
Offensive Line: F
The struggles for Tennessee’s offensive line continue. Jashon Robertson again had a drive-killing poor snap. Marcus Tatum was called for two offsides penalties and missed two key blocks on a screen and a scramble play. The line also drew two 15-yard penalties. Drew Richmond was beat on pass protection on multiple occasions as well. And when Tennessee needed the line the most — inside the red zone — they couldn’t muscle their way into controlling the line of scrimmage.
Again, the defense suffered mightily from an inept offensive performance. This is even more important for Tennessee’s defense because of the lack of depth. Tennessee can’t rotate two full defensive lines and have very limited options with rotating linebackers. With the offense not capitalizing early, the Gamecocks were able to stick to their game plan and exploit Tennessee’s lack of depth for almost the entirety of the second half.
Defensive Stat of the Game: Second half Time of Possession: 21:01 (SC) to 8:59 (UT)
Defensive Line: D
The defensive line couldn’t get consistent pressure on Jake Bentley with a four man rush. The ends were ineffective against the run in the second half. And it was clear that they were gassed in the second half. This was against an injury-riddled South Carolina offensive line. And against second- and third-string running backs.
Much the same story as the defensive line. The linebackers were generally effective until South Carolina just wore them down late in the game. The Gamecocks held their best offensive weapon, Tight End Hayden Hurst, in reserve until the third quarter. The Vols linebackers couldn’t stop the run and Hurst at the same time.
Defensive Backs: C-
Another ho-hum performance. The backs played generally off their receivers and allowed completions on the underneath routes. They were just O.K. — O.K. in coverage, O.K. in run support. Nothing more, and nothing less.
Special Teams: B
Trevor Daniel had two booming punts that the defense wasn’t able to hold. All coverage teams did well and returns weren’t special, but there were no mistakes. Nothing stands out in the special teams department this week.
There’s just no answer for all of the little things. Penalties. Clock management. Play calling. All of this off a bye week — again. Even the Tennessee fans that are already yearning for a coaching change were hoping that Tennessee could limp to an 8-win season before cutting ties with Butch Jones. A second consecutive loss to an over-manned and less talented South Carolina squad — OFF OF A BYE WEEK — might make the inevitable arrive sooner rather than later.
South Carolina’s coaches made adjustments, and Tennessee’s coaches did not. Simple as that.
For the third time this season, the game went to the last play. For the second time, the Vols couldn’t close.
There’s no cliche, no motivational quote, no speech that can be given at this point. The season is lost, and so is Vols fan’s confidence in Butch Jones and his coaching staff.
Tennessee gets Alabama on the road next week. There’s no reason to think it will be anything other than twice as worse as the Georgia debacle. As bad as it is now, it’s only going to get worse.