After a disappointing performance in the season opener last weekend, the Tennessee Volunteers bounced back nicely against FCS East Tennessee State Buccaneers on Saturday. After a slow start on offense, the Vols looked better at every position against the out-matched ETSU squad.
Tennessee Vols Game Grades ETSU Edition
The Vols offense started slowly once again. At one point, the Vols defense had 21 points while the offense had managed only ten points. Even with the final tally of 59 points, the Vols offense accounted for only 414 total yards. While advanced metrics indicate an efficient offensive effort, the eyeball test isn’t as positive. For the majority of the first quarter, the Vols offense struggled to take control of a far lesser defense.
The Vols still managed 18 plays of no gain or less, including 13 of those plays on the ground. That statistic will really hurt Tennessee if they continue to have this level of these types of play in conference play.
Offensive Stat of the Game: 0 Turnovers
For the second straight game quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was the best player on the field. Guarantano’s passing was crisp and there were no obvious poor decisions. Most importantly, against a clearly inferior opponent, he protected the ball against turnovers. His deep ball looked good as well. The one thing we still haven’t seen this season is Guarantano making plays with his legs.
Backup Keller Chryst got quality time running the offense and executed well. Chryst had a nice 50 yard touchdown pass.
Running Backs: B
Tim Jordan didn’t look quite as dominant as he did last week, particularly in some early critical situations. There was some life injected into the offense by Jeremy Banks and his performance inside the red zone. Banks ran angry and was finally able to muscle through the Bucs defense in the second quarter. He and Madre London clearly wore down an undermanned ETSU defensive front and accounted for four of Tennessee’s five rushing touchdowns.
However, without Ty Chandler, the Vols running backs lack the big play ability.
The receiving corps continues to impress. They’ve made the biggest improvement in using their frames to gain separation and crisp route running. Marquez Callaway, Jordan Murphy, and Josh Palmer all had good games and all had nice long receptions.
The passing game bailed the Tennessee offense out early and set the stage for the rushing attack. With Dominick Wood-Anderson and Jauan Jennings also available, opposing defensive coaches will have to consider Tennessee’s passing attack as a legitimate threat.
The receivers also blocked well, particularly Wood-Anderson from the tight end spot.
Offensive Line: D
The first game without Brandon Kennedy was another disappointing effort the offensive line. Much like the West Virginia game, the offensive line was out-muscled in the first quarter. Guarantano took another hit coming untouched from the A-gap. Ryan Johnson played sufficiently at center in relief of Kennedy, but will have to continue to improve for the Vols to be competitive in conference play.
It wasn’t until after the defense made it 31-0 mid-way through the second quarter that the offensive line started to own the line of scrimmage. Against a five-year old FCS program, the Vols offensive line should own the line of scrimmage from play number one.
The Vols will go only as far as the offensive line will take them this year.
ETSU was absolutely over-matched. But the Vols defense still held the Buccaneers to just three points. Moreover, the Vols defense set the tone early before the offense got in rhythm. You’ve got to grade on a curve against a lower-tier FCS team, but the defense deserves credit for their dominant performance on Saturday, regardless of the opponent.
Defensive Stat of the Game: 21 Points Scored From Defense/ST.
Defensive Line: B+
Kyle Phillips had easily his best game as a Volunteer on Saturday. Phillips blocked at least three ETSU passes, two of which resulted in interceptions and a third that should have been a Shy Tuttle interception. One of the blocked passes resulted in a touchdown as well.
Emmitt Gooden had a strong game with eight tackles, three for loss. Tuttle, while absent from the stat sheet, was effective in the middle. ETSU did manage 125 yards rushing, and this wasn’t a tough test for the defensive line. But they did what they needed to do on Saturday.
A much better effort from the linebackers on Saturday than a week before. Will Ignont, Darrin Kirkland, Jr., Daniel Bituli, and Shanon Reid all had solid days in run defense. Kirkland, Jr. had an interception returned for a touchdown as well. The linebackers weren’t challenged in the passing game; they certainly will be against SEC opponents.
Jonathan Kongbo was still absent from any meaningful contributions. The Vols must get a better pass rush from their outside linebackers if they want to have success against upcoming conference opponents.
Defensive Backs: B-
No unit made more improvement than the defensive backs. Remember, this was against ETSU, though. Freshman Bryce Thompson had a day with an interception return for touchdown, two tackles-for-loss, and four total tackles. The Vols secondary held ETSU to 69 yards total passing without a dominant pass rush. And they contributed in the run defense as three of the top six tacklers were defensive backs.
They’re still young. They still need to improve. And they won’t be tested against an abysmal UTEP passing attack. But they played better today.
Special Teams: A-
Marquill Osborne‘s punt block/return touchdown was the catalyst for Tennessee’s onslaught late in the first quarter. Joe Doyle continued quality punting and Brent Cimaglia made one field goal in addition to eight extra points.
The coverage teams had no collapses, either. Even against the curve, special teams prevented ETSU from gaining any momentum and served as a catalyst for the team on Saturday. They deserve this “A”.
Jeremy Pruitt‘s first win as head coach at Tennessee was workman-like. The coaching staff, particularly the defense, had the team ready to play after a disappointing effort and against a lesser opponent. That’s not easy to do.
Next week will be a challenge as well, with a not-so-good UTEP in town, a noon start, the luster of the first home game of the season absent, and the pressure of the Florida game looming. It’ll be telling to see how this team starts next week.
But the team clearly made improvements from week one to week two. Just to get to a bowl this season, Tennessee must continue to make improvements week to week.
UTEP comes to Knoxville next week after losing to FCS Northern Arizona in week one and getting crushed by UNLV this week. Tennessee should handle UTEP easily. It will be important for the Vols to come and take care of business again against the Miners as they did this week.
Florida, coming off their first loss in 32 years to Kentucky, looms in two weeks. Once again, Tennessee’s opening conference game against the Gators might be the most important game of the season.
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