6 problems the Vols must solve during the bye week
Well … that was ugly.
Tennessee’s 48-17 loss to Alabama was bad. The Vols were outplayed in every aspect of the game. Heck, the 31-point margin brought back memories of the 2010-2012 losses, when Derek Dooley’s Vols lost to the Crimson Tide by that exact margin 3 straight times.
And folks, let me tell you, the last thing Jeremy Pruitt wants these days is to be compared to Derek Dooley.
The good news is that Tennessee gets a much needed week off, and some extra time to prepare for an unexpectedly decent Arkansas team on Nov. 7.
Here are 6 problems that the Vols need to address during the bye week.
1. Get better quarterback play… from anyone
This is the most obvious issue. They can’t effectively move the football with Jarrett Guarantano at quarterback. Over the past 10 quarters, the Tennessee offense has scored 24 points … and seen opposing defenses score 28 points against them.
If Guarantano truly is the best option at quarterback, this is an indictment of Pruitt, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and quarterback coach Chris Weinke.
Whether it’s Guarantano, J.T. Shrout, Brian Maurer (who played at the end of the Alabama game) or true freshman Harrison Bailey, somebody has to take control of the offense.
Sorting that out is Priority No. 1 during the bye week.
2. What happened to the offensive line?
During the offseason, Tennessee’s offensive line looked to be one of the best in the SEC. They returned 4- and 5-star talent across the board. The group seemingly got a boost when Georgia transfer Cade Mays was finally allowed by the NCAA and SEC to play.
But the past 3 games have not been pretty. They were manhandled by Georgia’s defensive line and followed that game up with subpar performances against Kentucky and Alabama. Yes, the competition did improve following the season-opening wins over South Carolina and Missouri, but an offensive line with this many future NFL Draft picks shouldn’t be pushed around to this extent.
Offensive line coach Will Friend must get his players to get back to being the bullies and not the bullied.
3. Find Jalin Hyatt more often
Tennessee has a solid crop of true freshman receivers. So far, the best of the bunch appears to be Jalin Hyatt.
Against Alabama, he had 2 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown. The yardage and scoring column possibly could have increased had a review occurred on his 3rd quarter reception, in which officials ruled he stepped out of bounds.
Hyatt has big-play ability and the speed to be a true deep threat. Ramel Keyton was supposed to fill that role, but he has 7 catches for only 59 yards.
For an offense that has major problems sustaining drives, getting Hyatt involved more often to pick up yards in big chunks would be helpful.
4. Defensive line uncertainty
Pruitt made headlines when he fired defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh following the Kentucky loss. Considering the myriad problems on offense, it felt like a peculiar decision.
Against Alabama, that group couldn’t get pressure on quarterback Mac Jones, nor could it stop running back Najee Harris. Yes, Alabama’s offense is explosive, but any time you are allowing nearly 600 yards of offense, that is a serious concern.
Tennessee has 6 seniors on that line, with varying levels of experience. They have to play better … and be coached better. It’s as simple as that.
5. Tackling problems
On multiple occasions, the Vols allowed Alabama players to pick up key extra yards after contact. That was the difference between forcing a 4th down or seeing the chains moved.
Physical practices aren’t as prevalent, especially now. Maybe they aren’t getting as much work in that area. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that Tennessee’s defense is not making key stops when they need them the most.
6. Get the confidence back
When Tennessee was 1-4 last season, it felt like everything was about to fall off the rails. But Pruitt and this coaching staff were able to keep this team from putting up the white flag. They’d win 7 of their last 8, including 6 in a row culminating with a victory in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Right now, the Vols look frustrated. You could see it in the body language of some players when a tackle was missed or a 3rd down was converted by the Tide.
Tennessee has 5 games left. If this team doesn’t start playing with the confidence and swagger they showed a year ago, it could be a rough ending.