Final grades for the 2020 Tennessee Volunteers
Well, the 2020 season probably couldn’t have ended any other way for Tennessee.
The Vols got a Liberty Bowl berth, but won’t play in the game after head coach Jeremy Pruitt and multiple players tested positive for COVID.
So the season is officially complete, and at 3-7, it was a season to forget.
Let’s put the finishing touches on it with final grades for the 2020 Tennessee Volunteers.
Jarrett Guarantano started 7 games, and UT went 2-5. He threw 3 pick-6s, including 2 in the 2nd quarter of Tennessee’s crushing 34-7 loss to Kentucky. His time at Tennessee is finally done, as he has entered the transfer portal. He threw 6 of the Vols’ 14 TD passes this season and finished his Vols career with 38.
True freshman Harrison Bailey started the final 3 games and had some positive moments, specifically in the victory over Vanderbilt. Redshirt sophomore J.T. Shrout looked good in garbage time of the Florida game. Sophomore Brian Maurer saw limited action, only throwing 6 passes all season.
Tennessee’s quarterback play was less than mediocre for most of the season. If the Vols don’t figure out how to get more out of that position, things don’t expect to get much better for UT in 2021.
Running backs: B
Sophomore Eric Gray was held out of the final game of the season, and that could be an issue going forward depending on how Tennessee’s internal investigation into alleged recruiting violations turns out. Gray was the best skill player on the team, gaining 772 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. He added 254 receiving yards with 2 more scores.
There were moments when the Vols leaned on Gray to carry the offense, and quite often he did.
Senior Ty Chandler added 456 rushing yards with 4 touchdowns, and he could return in 2021, potentially giving Tennessee a solid returning 1-2 punch. Again, that depends on the investigation.
Wide receivers: C
As expected, senior Josh Palmer was their top pass catcher, with 33 grabs for 475 yards and 4 scores. Grad transfer Velus Jones, Jr. came on late, accounting for a total of 3 touchdown grabs in the Florida and Vanderbilt games.
True freshman Jalin Hyatt caught 20 passes, including a memorable touchdown grab in the Alabama game. Malachi Wideman and Jimmy Calloway, also true freshmen, didn’t get many opportunities, accounting for a total of only 3 catches.
This team sorely missed the leadership and clutch play of Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings, who took their talents to the NFL. Tennessee’s quarterback issues did the 2020 pass catchers no favors either.
Tight ends: C
The loss of Austin Pope certainly hurt the run game. But redshirt junior Princeton Fant and redshirt sophomore Jacob Warren showed that they have the potential to be contributors in this offense. Fant and Warren combined for 18 catches and 2 touchdowns.
Offensive line: C
This group was supposed to be the foundation, with 4- and 5-star players across the board. But they had a down year. Tennessee gave up 29 sacks this season and never truly imposed its will.
There were a few moments when they played the role of the bully, knocking the opposing front 7 off the ball and making big holes for Gray and Chandler. Overall though, this was a group that didn’t live up to the hype.
Defensive line: C
I’m not quite sure how to grade these guys. Things went off the rails when Pruitt fired defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh after only 4 games. Pruitt took over those duties the rest of the season. That might have led to some very uneven play.
Matthew Butler was the most consistent player, finishing 4th on the team with 43 tackles, including 2 sacks. Kivon Bennett had 22 tackles and tied for the team lead with 4.5 sacks, but was kicked off the team following the Auburn game.
Henry To’o To’o had an excellent sophomore season, leading the Vols with 76 tackles, including 10 for a loss. His pick-6 helped Tennessee beat South Carolina in the season-opener.
Deandre Johnson tied with Bennett with those 4.5 sacks. A silly targeting penalty cost him most of the Georgia game, and he was sorely missed in that contest. Sophomore Quavaris Crouch was 3rd on the team with 57 tackles.
Pruitt’s specialty is defensive backs … and they weren’t very special. Nary a game went by in which Tennessee’s defensive backs didn’t give up big plays on slant patterns.
The Vols gave up 113 completions that covered at least 10 yards — tied for the most in the SEC.
Getting off the field on 3rd down was a problem throughout the year for the entire defense, and a big part of that ineptitude fell on the secondary. The Vols were one of the worst groups in the nation in that category, ranked 113th in the country at a 47.6% success rate for offenses. Tennessee DBs made a total of only 4 interceptions all year. (To’o To’o had the other.)
Junior Trevon Flowers was 2nd on the team in tackles with 62.
I give credit to this group for keeping this team together. You only saw a few players opt out and not until the final weeks.
But overall there was very little player development. The quarterback situation was never resolved, and you can put a lot of that blame on offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke. Chaney in particular, at $1.6 million, was grossly overpaid.
Things can change quickly, but as of right now it appears that Pruitt is getting a 4th season. If that is the case, there will likely be changes to this staff.